Rock solid jazz guitarist

Standards, original compositions and Hassidic tunes a Tel Aviv concert.

Russian inside 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Russian inside 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This year's Jazz at the Performing Arts Center series will kick off with a bang on December 1. The season's opener features two titans of the jazz world - saxophonist Joe Lovano and veteran guitarist John Abercrombie. Abercrombie is no stranger to these shores, having played at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat on several occasions, and his impending appearance is causing quite a stir. Abercrombie's most recent concert in Israel was three years ago in Eilat, when he paired up with bass player Miroslav Vitous. At that time Vitous told me that, as a bass player, he was fed up with - as he put it - being "the slave" of the band he plays with. I wondered whether Abercrombie felt that guitarists also get something of a raw deal in the jazz fraternity. "I don't think guitarists get relegated to just keeping time as bass players often do. We have a more individual voice. I wouldn't want to just play rhythm guitar or play a solo in a particular way just to fit in. The most important thing to me is to express myself. I know Miroslav has some strong ideas on that. I think, like me, he wants to be part of the creative process. People should be allowed to concentrate on their strengths." Lovano and Abercrombie are no strangers to each other's music, having played in the same band in the 1990s, and Lovano features prominently on Abercrombie's 1999 recording for the ECM label, Open Land. Track record notwithstanding, the two have diversified, and it will be interesting to see where they connect on December 1. "We do have a history of playing together, although not in recent years," Abercrombie notes. "Joe has a more robust sound than mine, and his music really conjures up 'jazz.' My music conjures up a lot of different things. In that sense we're really different, but I've had a lot of good experiences playing with him. He likes it when I play a lot behind him. He likes it when I improvise while he's improvising. You get that sort of contrapuntal approach, which I like to use. So we connect in that way." Expect a varied program at the Performing Arts Center next Friday. "We'll play a mixture of each other's tunes and some standards. Joe will bring a couple of tunes of his, and we'll do something from my Open Land album." There is also a Jewish element to the December 1 concert, with Bob Meyer behind the drum set. "Yeah, Bob's going to bring a couple of Hassidic tunes. It will be a real potpourri, that's for sure." Add to that an Israeli connection of sorts: the bass player for the occasion will be Ed Schuller, who features on Israeli pianist Anat Fort's forthcoming release on ECM. Fort is the first Israeli jazz artist to record with the prestigious German label. Although Abercrombie adopts a mostly filigree approach to jazz these days, he says he maintains the rock and roll influences of his youth. "You'll find distortion finding its way into what I play from time to time, and I do tend to get a bit raucous." That presumably will fit in nicely with Lovano's more full-bodied tenor sax sound. "I don't try to play like a rock musician, but I do have a rock style and use distortion and overdrive, getting a more singing tone out of my guitar. But over the years I do less of that." Mind you, Abercrombie might make better money if he did focus more on rock. But despite the generally far richer pickings in the rock world, the guitarist isn't too sure. "I don't know. Probably not the way I do rock stuff." Tel Aviv's Performing Arts Center, Friday, December 1, 10 p.m.