This is what happens when you get four reflective musicians with more expertise than ego who have played with one another for decades — gentle luminosity. The disc is credited to pianist Marc Copland, who is typically solid, harmonically sophisticated, and self-assured, but John Abercrombie fans take note: This is another of those occasions (Jack DeJohnette’s New Directions and Charles Lloyd’s Voice in the Night also come to mind) where the guitarist slides in and unobtrusively steals the show.
Abercrombie correctly surmises that the sensitive, cerebral dynamic Copland fosters puts his tunes in the right light, and he comes up with three beauties for this collection (slotted 2-3-6 in the seven-song program). After an impressionistic intro, “River Bend” has an anthemic grandeur that is neatly understated, like a bucolic landscape that suddenly wheels into view as you’re being carried along by the current. “Car Blue Lady” is more playful, with a four-note, two-note-echo motif that Copland is especially effective at invoking beneath the solos. And on the self-explanatory “Ballad in Two Keys,” Abercrombie plies that flat, ululating tone that’s kindred to a country twang yet is almost always placed in wistful settings.
Copland’s two compositions and the one from bassist Drew Gress are less distinctive, or perhaps simply less accessible, yet each contain a half-dozen moments where at least two or three of the musicians create improvisational synergies that only come with big ears, open hearts and deep familiarity. Abercrombie has been playing with Copland since the latter was a saxophonist back in the early ’70s, and Gress and drummer Billy Hart have been part of Copland’s ensembles since the 20th Century — in fact, Copland’s Second Look, from 1996, featured the same foursome. For this set, Copland chooses to close with one of his favorite composers, Cole Porter, and the band’s treatment of “Everything I Love” blends the loose-limbed joy and aristocratic élan that were often the contrasting sources of Porter’s appeal.