It was quite a few years ago that I’d first heard John Abercrombie in Gateway. “Back-Woods Song” just randomly came up while I sat at my desk listening to the jazz channel on internet radio. I was floored. Groove till the cows came home, with the rhythm section of Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, John Abercrombie’s fluid guitar sounded like Hendrix steeped in late-era Coltrane. There was technical prowess for sure with playing that resembled some intense geometric theorem, yet there was this underlying bluesy soul in the runs. I knew this was a record I wanted to own at some point for sure.
Fast forward to a couple years ago as I was rummaging through the local antique store/basement record shop and low and behold I come across a pristine copy of Gateway’s first LP for a mere handful of shekels. It was mine in moments and I was off on a rainy Midwestern afternoon to listen at home base.
Gateway’s debut is a masterful jazz fusion record that combines three powerhouse musicians and in the course of six tracks they demolish anyone in their path. When I used to think of jazz fusion I’d start to get sweaty palms, a lump would grow in my throat, and I’d want to just hide. The intellectualism of this musical sport would overwhelm me and I’d just shut down. Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Al Di Meola…those were the artists that would come to mind when I heard jazz fusion. All incredible musicians, and songs that felt like ancient proverbs put to music. But when I tried to find some sort of emotional center(how many licks does it take to get to the emotional center of “The Dance of Maya”? I wouldn’t lick that if I were you.), it just wasn’t there. But Gateway, they’re different. Sure, they have their share of high brow noodling(“Sorcery I”, “Waiting”), but songs like “Back-Woods Song”, “May Dance”, and “Jamala” are filled with witty playing and light-as-air vibes that keeps you coming back for more.
I’d never realized what an incredible player Abercrombie was before hearing this album. Smooth, fluid, and plenty of that mid-70s funkiness. I’d heard Holland and DeJohnette before on a few John Scofield recordings, so I knew they had the goods, but even on this 1975 record they seem looser than they’d ever been.
There was a second Gateway record before the name disappeared into the ether of three incredibly long musical rosters. I have yet to hear that one, but it’s on the list to get. If you like jazz, impeccable musicianship, and hearing musicians at the absolute top of their game, you need to check this album out. Don’t let the “jazz fusion” moniker scare you away. You’d be doing your ears a disservice.
Enjoying some of that Dark Truth Stout. I think I’ll listen to Gateway one mo time and pour myself another.