John Abercrombie / Ralph Towner's Biography
Chris Kelsey [allmusic.com]
John Abercrombie's tying together of jazz's many threads made him one of the most influential acoustic and electric guitarists of the 1970s and early '80s; his recordings for ECM helped define that label's progressive chamber jazz reputation. Abercrombie's style drew upon all manner of contemporary improvised music; his style was essentially jazz-based, but also displayed a more than passing familiarity with forms that ranged from folk and rock to Eastern and Western art musics.
Abercrombie attended Boston's Berklee College of Music from 1962 to 1966. While at Berklee, the guitarist toured with bluesman Johnny Hammond. After relocating to New York in 1969, Abercrombie spent time in groups led by drummers Chico Hamilton and Billy Cobham. It was with the latter's Spectrum group that Abercrombie first received widespread attention. Abercrombie's first album as leader was Timeless, a trio album with drummer Jack DeJohnette and keyboardist Jan Hammer. That was followed by Gateway, another trio with DeJohnette, and bassist Dave Holland replacing Hammer.
Cat 'n' MouseAbercrombie continued to be active as the 21st century opened, releasing Cat 'n' Mouse in 2002, Class Trip in 2004, A Nice Idea (with pianist Andy LaVerne) in 2005, Structures (recorded with a single microphone) in 2006, and Third Quartet in 2007. Wait Till You See Her appeared in 2009. In 2011, the guitarist issued Speak to Me, a duet recording with pianist Marc Copland on the German Pirouet label. He followed it with the quartet recording Within a Song for ECM. His band on the date included drummer Joey Baron, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and bassist Drew Gress. Another quartet session appeared on the label in October of 2013. Entitled 39 Steps, its lineup contained only one change, as Copland replaced Lovano. Uncharacteristically, he released Inspired, a collaborative setting with fellow guitarists Rale Micic, Peter Bernstein, and Lage Lund, for Artistshare in 2016, before returning to ECM with his regular quartet for Up and Coming early the following year; it would be his final recording. After years of health problems, including a stroke suffered in early 2017, Abercrombie succumbed to heart failure at home on August 22. He was 72.
Scott Yanow [allmusic.com]
One of the founders of Oregon, Ralph Towner is one of the few modern jazz musicians to specialize in acoustic guitar. His playing often stretches beyond the boundaries of conventional jazz into world music and is quite distinctive. He started playing piano when he was three and trumpet at five, performing in a dance band when he was 13. Towner studied classical guitar in Vienna and played with classical chamber groups in the mid-'60s.
After moving to New York in 1969, Towner worked with Jimmy Garrison, Jeremy Steig, and Paul Winter's Winter Consort (1970-1971). In the latter group, Towner first met up with Collin Walcott, Glen Moore, and Paul McCandless, and in 1971 they broke away to form Oregon, a highly versatile group ranging from jazz and free improvisations to folk music. Towner (who guested with Weather Report in 1971 and played with Gary Burton a bit during 1974-1975) performed and recorded with Oregon extensively in the years after the group's formation, in addition to recording as a leader and with many other artists on the ECM label.
While on tour in 2003 with guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, Towner encountered Kazakhstan classical guitarist Slava Grigoryan, who suggested a collaboration. Towner assembled a tour in 2005, which presented each man as a soloist, in duets, and in trios. They began to play and tour together as a ''band'' whenever time would permit. The group's progress was first documented on From a Dream, issued on Muthspiel's Material label. Towner brought the project to ECM in 2012. The trio recorded in Lugano, Switzerland with producer Manfred Eicher, and released Travel Guide in the fall of 2013. Three years later, Towner joined Argentine saxophonist Javier Girotto and the ensemble Aires Tango for Duende. In 2017, Towner returned to the solo guitar format for My Foolish Heart on ECM.