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John Abercrombie, Jazz Guitarist and Innovator, Dead at 72

John Abercrombie, renowned jazz guitar player, bandleader, and teacher, has died at the age of 72. He passed away yesterday evening at his home in Cortland, New York, according to an announcement on his Facebook page. The Ottawa Citizen and The Wire report the cause of death as heart failure, related to a stroke Abercrombie experienced earlier this year.

Abercrombie was an influential guitar stylist who, after getting his start as a session musician and sideman with artists like Gato Barbieri, Billy Cobham, and Gil Evans, came into prominence as a bandleader in the 1970s through his recordings on the ECM label.  His debut album, Timeless, is particularly renowned, featuring synth/organist Jan Hammer (of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miami Vice soundtrack fame) and Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett collaborator Jack DeJohnette on drums. Abercrombie helped to define the trademark, ethereal, and genre-defying sound of the ECM label along with artists like Jarrett, Gary Burton, and Pat Metheny. He also played and recorded on-and-off for decades in the trio Gateway, with Jarrett, DeJohnette, and legendary bassist Dave Holland.

In the ’80s, Abercrombie began playing on a guitar synthesizer and experiments with outlandish effects to expand the sound palette of his instrument, working in fusion and free-jazz idioms. He was also gifted as a performer of traditional jazz standards, and known for his muted, technically adept style and complex and imaginative harmonic sensibility. He released an album in January, Up and Coming, on ECM in January of this year, billed to The John Abercrombie Quartet.

Check out some of Abercrombie’s work below, and some outpourings of appreciation from notable collaborators, peers, and fans in the music community, below.