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John Abercrombie /Dan Wall/Adam Nussbaum – Bo Diddy (90s – 89)

May 24, 2013

I can still remember buying this album in Canberra, the summer of 97/98. I was on a work placement between my last two years of University. It was a sweet deal, long days in Cooma, but a day off a fortnight to head to the national capital and rummage through Impact Records. CDs on ECM records always cost a premium – over $30 – but I was young, had some disposable income for the first time in my life, and in the album Tactics came one of my favourite guitarists in John Abercrombie and my fovourite sounds in the Hammond B3 organ. Plus I had a radio show to service when I got back home.

The only problem was I did not have acess to a CD player on which to hear it until I got home some two months later.

I’d first heard John Abercombie on an ECM sampler CD I found in the 2UNE record collection earlier in the year. Then, in amongst the dusty records I discovered his Timeless album of 1974, featuring Jack DeJohnette on drums and later TV theme tune composer Jan Hammer on the Hammond. The closing Ralphs Piano Waltz still calls to me years later.

So when I found Tactics on the shelves, a live album with Wall on Hammond and drummer Nussbaum, I bought it sight unheard. Months later I was justified in this decision, and it has become one of my favourite live albums in any genre and era.

It’s a very late night album, one of the few albums in my collection I ever dared played to my friends on a night of board games when we were all asked to bring music. It went down well. Much of the album is impressionistic, even the songs are standards or covers. Abercrombie is the first guitarist I heard who played around the notes, giving the idea of the tune without necessarily hitting the right notes. Wall adds smudges and shadings of sound. It’s not improvising through cramming in notes played, but creating textures and feelings.

That said, while the band softly glides though many tracks, the album is not without fire, as on this track. The stop/start tension/release is palpaple, as the two long solos build up to a firely chorus anda sudden pause. It’s like the world has dropped away and we suddenly realise we’ve stepped off the cliff.

This video below is taken from a far later concert than the one on the album – but I hope it gives you the idea.

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