Within A Song is a testimonial to guitarist John Abercrombie’s longstanding appreciation for beauty. All but two of its nine tracks are covers of songs taken from jazz albums first released in a period from 1959-64, when Abercrombie was between the ages of 14 and 19 and just formulating his aesthetic. Some, such as John Coltrane’s “Wise One” and “Flamenco Sketches” from the Miles Davis disc, Kind of Blue, are justly renowned for their delicacy. But Abercrombie also ferrets out the pleasantly voluptuous contours of Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation” in a manner that contrasts with the antic Coleman original from 1961, and he has a band of top-shelf talents — saxophonist Joe Lovano with him on the front line, and bassist Drew Gress and his longtime cohort, drummer Joey Baron, in the rhythm section — capable of the subtlety and sophistication that spells the difference between what is merely pretty and what is luminescent.
Four of the songs done here previously featured guitarist Jim Hall, whose warm tone and rigorous craftsmanship clearly made an impression on Abercrombie’s style. On the opening “Where Are You,” Abercrombie and Lovano reprise the tender affinity deployed by Hall and Sonny Rollins on The Bridge in 1962, the notes and passages forthright but careful, like moving down a hillside on a winding footpath, occasionally pivoting for new leverage. (The Bridge is also showcased on a meld of that album’s “Without A Song” with Abercrombie’s like-minded title track.) Abercrombie typically includes more originals than covers on a record. But the personal nature and formative impact of these cover tunes makes Within a Song an apt title. It is as intimate and as revelatory of his artistic personality as if he had composed every note.