ECM all-star John Abercrombie: 1944-2017.
ECM all-star John Abercrombie: 1944-2017. ECM Records

The great American jazz guitarist John Abercrombie died of heart failure yesterday at age 72. After a stint with the deliriously distinctive jazz-rock group Stark Reality (whose tracks have been sampled by Common, Cut Chemist, Main Source, Saul Williams, and others), Abercrombie played on sessions with Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans, Billy Cobham. Abercrombie later embarked on a rewarding solo career with Germany’s renowned ECM Records, releasing some of that label’s most engrossing albums, including Timeless, featuring drummer Jack DeJohnette and organist Jan Hammer. In addition, the guitarist’s trio with DeJohnette and former Miles Davis bassist Dave Holland resulted in two exemplary records of cerebral, kinetic fusion under the Gateway title. He also contributed to ECM catalog highlights cut by Jan Garbarek, Collin Walcott, Charles Lloyd, Ralph Towner, and Kenny Wheeler.

Over his long career, Abercrombie forged a style that combined crystalline contemplativeness with conflagratory passages which could strafe with the fury of fellow fusion luminaries such as Larry Coryell and Bill Frisell.

Abercrombie's longtime label, ECM, issued a statement on the musician’s passing. “John Abercrombie, one of the great improvisers,… will be much missed, for his sensitive musicality, his good companionship, and his dry humor which enhanced many a session. He leaves behind an extensive discography which will be studied as long as people continue to play jazz guitar.”

One of Seattle's foremost experimental guitarists, Dennis Rea (Moraine, organizer of the Seaprog festival), also commemorated Abercrombie, via Facebook. “Awful news: One of my all-time musical heroes, John Abercrombie, left this world yesterday. As a guitarist, he was one of my 3-4 greatest enduring influences. By all accounts he was also a consummate human being. So glad I had the chance to see him play a number of times over the years, including a set with his legendary first quartet in Hamburg in '79. You'll always be there in my playing, John.”