'39 Steps' has a lilt and a bittersweet quality that draws you in but never too close. [...] A master of jazz guitar in his prime,39 Steps’ is a beauty.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank
The subtle interplay between all four musicians is a constant joy, and the music simply glows with life. Highly recommended.
John Watson, Jazz Camera
The emphasis is on subtle intrigue, flowing lyricism and the interplay between the leader’s warm, cleanly articulated guitar and Marc Copland’s piano [...] With bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron equally supple and sinewy copanions, each track is an understated delight.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times
Although US guitarist John Abercrombie has appeared on over 50 ECM albums, both as leader and sideman for the likes of Charles Lloyd, Jan Garbarek, Enrico Rava and Kenny Wheeler, his pianist here, Marc Copland, has not recorded for the label before. Their musical approaches, however, are supremely compatible, Copland remarking: ‘If I played guitar I would want to sound like him. We’re both into listening, approaching harmonies in a certain way, playing lyrically as well as swinging ...’
This last phrase perfectly describes the music on ‘39 Steps’, seven Abercrombie compositions, two by Copland, a collective improvisation (which continues the Hitchcock theme by being entitled ‘Shadow of a Doubt’) and an intriguing closer, a caught-in-a-strobe-light deconstruction of the Burnett/Norton classic ‘Melancholy Baby’.
Underpinning, embellishing and occasionally driving the thoughtful yet always powerful playing of Copland and Abercrombie is one of the subtlest, most musicianly rhythm sections in the music: bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron. [...] Both Abercrombie and Copland are unhurried, thoughtful players, their solos impeccably tasteful but surprisingly robust, and the entire album simply exudes class, elegance and assurance – a flawless recording from four masters of the craft at the top of their game.
Chris Parker, London Jazz
The lion's share of the compositions belong to Abercrombie, who rightfully assumes leader credit here, with Copland contributing only two of the set's ten pieces, along with one group-credited free improv and an indirect closing nod to tradition with a reading of ‘Melancholy Baby’ that still fits within the quartet's overall sphere of approach; freely interpreted, in this case with no time and no discernible changes, its melody remains recognizable amidst the freewheeling yet carefully controlled freedom and interaction within which this group operates.
The other important change is, for the first time, having an external producer—in this case, ECM label head Manfred Eicher. As good as Copland's two previous recordings sound, there's a notable and tremendous difference in how this date sounds: more delicate, more rarefied, with every note discernible right down to its final decay and even the most delicate touch of a cymbal occupying its rightful place in the overall soundscape. [...] As good as their previous recordings together have been, 39 Steps represents a major leap forward for Abercrombie and Copland's relationship, even as the guitarist returns to the piano-based configuration that was his first touring context, back in the late '70s.
John Kelman, All About Jazz
Zwei Harmonieinstrumente in einer Band geraten sich normalerweise leicht ins Gehege, aber bei zwei absoluten Meistern ihres Fachs wie Abercrombie und Copland ist das natürlich kein Problem. Sie umgarnen sich in wunderbarer Weise und passen so gut zueinander, weil beide einen charakteristisch zurückhaltenden Ton bevorzugen. ‚Wenn ich Gitarre spielen würde, würde ich wie er klingen wollen’, sagt Copland sogar über den Bandleader und steuert gleich zwei Songs – das verwunschene ‚LSD’ und das schleppend groovende ‚Spellbound’ – zu dessen neuem Album bei. Alle vier Musiker kennen sich seit Jahrzehnten und haben unzählige Aufnahmen in unterschiedlichen Konstellationen miteinander auf dem Buckel. So gehört Drew Gress zu Coplands Trio, und John Abercrombie war schon auf Coplands erster eigener Platte vor fünfundzwanzig Jahren dabei. Das kommt dieser Aufnahme zugute. Das Interplay ist traumhaft, und die vier werfen sich in magischer Weise die Bälle zu.
Rolf Thomas, Jazzthetik