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Uncovering New Riches : Jazz Bakery run offers a welcome, close look at guitarist Abercrombie and pianist Copland.


The music of guitarist John Abercrombie and pianist Marc Copland has the rare capacity to both whisper and shout. Often laid-back to the point of understatement, it can also suddenly shift into emotional and improvisatory high gear.

The duo's opening set Tuesday at the start of a six-night run at the Jazz Bakery included a typically eclectic collection of numbers, many of them drawn from a new Savoy jazz album, "Second Look." And since neither musician, despite high regard in jazz circles, is quite as well known to the wider public as he deserves to be, it was an opportunity to take a close look at their first-rate playing.

Abercrombie, gray-bearded, completely garbed in black, performed with a transfixed gaze, staring at some distant horizon as he rocked slowly back and forth. His sound--one of the most immediately identifiable guitar timbers in jazz--eased smoothly out of two speakers, oddly positioned on stands at upward-facing angles. His lines were smooth and articulate, the product of a thoughtful imagination, which clearly understands the value of rhythmic swing.

Copland's piano countered Abercrombie's single-line style with a tendency toward full-textured chordal harmonies. Like Abercrombie, he is a player who is fully involved with his music. Occasionally staring intently at the keyboard in the manner of Bill Evans, he more commonly played with his head held back, eyes closed, fingers moving independently. Not a particularly melodic player, Copland's most impressive moments came when he was using his instrument to produce colorful changes of texture.

Working together, with the able support of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Peter Erskine, the pair's most compelling moments resulted during unexpectedly transformative versions of material such as Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." Breaking into the virtually nonstop, chromatically oriented character of the original tune, they fragmented the melodic flow, interspersing brisk, sudden shifts of rhythm. It was an intriguing lesson in how to find new riches in previously well-mined musical lodes, as well as a solid incentive to hear more from these two fine, under-appreciated jazz artists.



John Abercrombie-Marc Copland Quartet at the Jazz Bakery through Sunday. 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 271-9039. $20 admission tonight, Friday and Saturday, 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, 7 p.m. $18 admission tonight, Friday and Saturday, 10:15 p.m., and Sunday, 9 p.m.

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