Monday, 28 August 2017

John Abercrombie & Ralph Towner - Sargasso Sea/Five Years Later (1976/1982)

In memoriam John Abercrombie, 16 Dec 1944 - 22 Aug 2017

Oh well, I did say on Friday that normal service would be resumed on Monday for this blog... and if normal service now means bidding sad farewells to artists whose music has meant so much to me, then so be it.  John Laird Abercrombie was born in Port Chester, NY to Scottish immigrants, and after a lifetime crafting an instantly identifiable guitar signature, has passed at age 72.  Having neglected to pick up his latest album at the beginning of this year due to other musical obsessions, I'm definitely going to do so now, but for today here's my two favourites of Abercrombie's career, both in the company of ECM labelmate Ralph Towner.  Previously posted at SGTG: the completely solo Characters, and Jack DeJohnette's Pictures.

Sargasso Sea was recorded in May 1976, and proved a genius pairing of two of ECM's rising stars right from the start.  Ralph Towner's silky 12-string overlaid with Abercrombie's liquid electric lead makes for a stunning album opener, with the eight minutes of Fable scoping out the breadth of their melodic talents and virtuoso skill, as would the title track and the explosive Elbow Room.  Elsewhere, we get the sublime sound of both guitarists going acoustic in a melding of their individual styles, and even some occasional piano from Towner, most notably in the gorgeous closer Parasol.
Deciding to repeat this memorable duo pairing five years later, Abercrombie and Towner already had their album title right there, and produced an even more ambitious effort, with a couple of tracks here hovering around the ten-minute mark.  One of these is the atmospheric, improvisatory opener Late Night Passenger, with Abercrombie's volume swells and percussive echoes contrasting with Towner's prepared-guitar buzzing.  The liquid lead versus shimmering 12-string magic formula returns in Isla and the cavernous reverberations of Microtheme.  The following track, the solemn Caminata, gives further proof that Abercrombie, Towner and Manfred Eicher were turning up the focus on ambience this time around, letting the acoustic fill the space, always in support - never dominating - of these two massive talents.  The other lengthy improv, the exciting race for transcendence that is Bumabia, underlines this too.

RIP John, and thanks for all the wonderful music.

Sargasso Sea link
Five Years Later link


  1. You always pick the good ones Alan. These are two big favorites for me as well. "Characters" also just such a gem. John will be greatly missed by many. Wonderful musician indeed.

    1. Thanks Chico. Also favourites of mine are the first Gateway album, and Gateway - Homecoming; must remember to post those at some point.