John Abercrombie Class Trip

Cat ’n’ Mouse, Abercrombie’s previous album for ECM was a small classic: the graceful, smouldering lyricism was familiar territory for the guitarist, but it coexisted with an unusual amount of openness, and the album even had a couple of freely improvised pieces. For Class Trip, he's reconvened the same band as before, which features violinist Mark Feldman and drummer Joey Baron (both of whom have sterling inside/outside chops honed among the outcasts of the New York scene), and the great Marc Johnson on bass. There have been losses as the band has become a working unit: the music has become sweeter and more streamlined, and the open spaces have largely been filled in — the two improvs this time, for instance, are brief and not all that substantial. But there are also compensations — by now Abercrombie and Feldman are working hand-in-glove, and when they play together it’s more like a twining two-horn duo than violin-plus-accompaniment. Class Trip opens on a high point with "Dansir,” a languorous mood piece with a sting in its tail, and although some of the tracks are a tad soft-edged, there’s plenty to keep the listener’s ears perked, like the Ornette-ish "Swirls” or a lovely unexpected improvisation over Bartók’s "Soldier’s Song.” Feldman is in particularly fine form — in the past I’ve often found him too insistently dazzling (he’s a specialist in flaring, licks-heavy arabesques), but the pairing with Abercrombie brings out some of the violinist’s subtlest and most intimate work. (ECM)