JAZZ REVIEW : Towner, Abercrombie: A Pair of Aces


Like two old friends sitting around swapping life stories as well as chatting introspectively, guitarists Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie traded personal musical thoughts in a duo performance Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood.

As the pair have been playing together since 1975, relaxation, empathy and subtlely were at the heart of their interplay. They seemed to know instinctively where the other was going, and each would find something complementary to support that direction. The pair refused to hit the audience over the head with any of this stuff--intent listening was required to fully appreciate their efforts.

The guitarists’ selections, which swung in a manner as individual and distinctive as the players’ unique approaches, included originals such as Abercrombie’s “Ralph’s Piano Waltz,” standards like Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” and free-form flings they made up on the spot. “Waltz” was a good example of how the pair took care of business.


Towner, on a six-string, nylon-strung, classical instrument, buoyed Abercrombie, who played a nylon-stringed electric guitar, with repeating, yet varying rhythmic statements. The latter soloed with brief, darting lines, then opted for more cloud-like swirls of sound. When roles were reversed, Abercrombie provided a bottom of three descending chords while Towner picked out biting, brisk ideas that were set off by plenty of space.

When, as on one impromptu tune, the players switched instruments--Towner going with a 12-string, steel-strung guitar and Abercrombie an electronically enhanced model--the sounds became more intense. Here, Abercrombie coaxed high-pitched, organ-like moans out of his instrument that hung like fog over the crashing waves of Towner’s gritting, ringing underpinning chunks.

Adding a bass or a drum might make the guitarists, who close Sunday, more accessible, but the additional instruments would somehow blunt the naturalness that marked their renditions.