Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am


Two eminent guitarists are visiting this week: on Wednesday the John Abercrombie Trio perform in Chai Wan as a star attraction of the Hong Kong Summer Jazz Festival 2012, and on Friday Johnny Winter and his band play Kitec in Kowloon Bay.

Abercrombie, 67, and Winter, 68, are elder statesmen in their fields: Abercrombie as a jazz guitarist of extraordinary range and sureness of touch, and Winter as a bluesman rocker. Each has also gone through a phase of playing music addressed primarily to a rock audience.

Like most jazz guitarists of his generation, Abercrombie started out playing rock, but after hearing Barney Kessel decided that his was the style he wanted to emulate.

His first professional gigs were in an organ trio with Johnny 'Hammond' Smith, but he really made his mark playing jazz rock with the Brecker Brothers in Dreams and then with Billy Cobham.

In the early 1970s a lot of jazzmen were trying hard to be rock stars, and as a guitar hero Abercrombie certainly had what it took, but he found that the role didn't suit him. ECM label boss Manfred Eicher saw something different in Abercrombie, and cut his first album with him in 1974. The association continues to this day, and as a leader he has recorded exclusively for the label.

Timeless, which also featured Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette, was in some respects a jazz fusion album, but Abercrombie's thoughtful guitar work seemed to point towards a more exploratory approach to the instrument. He has continued to develop ideas outside the commercial mainstream ever since, many of them significantly ahead of their time.

His present touring group has its roots in an organ trio he established in 1992, with organist Dan Wall and drummer Adam Nussbaum, to record an album called While We're Young. Organist Gary Versace has since replaced Wall.

According to Abercrombie the set the trio play here will comprise a mixture of old and newer material, including some of the compositions on his current release, Within a Song (ECM), recorded with saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron.

'We try to pick the best from different places,' says Abercrombie. 'We choose old material, new material, things that interest us. We have a set list, more or less, but it is subject to change on the spot.'

Abercrombie has a well established interest in Asian music, and is particularly looking forward on this tour to playing in Singapore, Manila and Mumbai for the first time. He has played previously in Hong Kong, and Tokyo, which is the other stop on the itinerary.

'I've always liked oriental music. I've never tried to learn it. I just try to get some of the colour and feeling of it into my music. I suppose we may find ourselves playing some stuff that sounds a little more Asian. Until you're there you don't know what's going to happen.'

Johnny Winter's dalliance with rock went on longer than Abercrombie's and produced some good albums in the early 1970s, but while he still plays high-octane blues with a rock'n'roll attitude, the rocker has for some years been in the shadow of the mature bluesman.

Arguably Winter's greatest achievement was orchestrating the Indian summer of Muddy Waters' late career, producing and playing on four albums - Hard Again, I'm Ready, Muddy Mississippi Waters Live, and his swansong, King Bee - between 1977 and 1981. The first three all won Grammys.

As an artist in his own right Winter is enjoying a late career resurgence. His 2004 album I'm a Bluesman was nominated for a Grammy, his incendiary version of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 was one of the highlights of Eric Clapton's 2007 Crossroads Festival and the subsequent DVD, and his current release, Roots, features guest appearances from fans Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, Warren Haynes and Susan Tedeschi.

The John Abercrombie Trio play at the Youth Square Y Theatre in Chai Wan on Wednesday at 8pm and tickets are HK$250 from Urbtix ( Johnny Winter is at Rotunda 3 Kitec in Kowloon Bay on Friday at 8pm, and tickets are HK$800 and HK$600 from HK Ticketing ( Three

Three albums from this week's visiting guitar stars.

In the Moment (ECM, 1994): arguably the finest of the four albums to date by the occasionally assembled jazz 'super trio' of John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, who only perform together at intervals of years, but never seem to have forgotten how to read each other's minds.

Cat'n'Mouse (ECM, 2000): another extraordinary aggregation of first rank musicians features Abercrombie with bassist Marc Johnson, drummer Joey Baron and regular instrumental sparring partner violinist Mark Feldman. Varied and beautifully paced, and made - like all ECM records - in just two days for recording and one for mixing. 'My feeling,' says Abercrombie, 'is that if you can't make a record in two days, then you can't make it at all.'

The Johnny Winter Anthology (Shout!, 2009): a well-chosen career retrospective with cuts selected from albums on all of the major labels for which he has recorded, and with a good balance of live and studio performances. Signature tunes such as Highway 61, Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo and I'm Yours and I'm Hers are all here.