John Scofield hates to sit still. He rarely goes more than two or three years playing a certain variety of jazz before he abruptly switches gears. His restlessness is part of the reason why he is one of the most highly respected six-string wielding jazz musicians of this generation. But with a recording career touching on such a wide range of styles over three decades, it's inevitable that at some point that Scofield will revisit some stops he's made along the way. This Meets That, coming out September 18 on the resurrected Emarcy label, can be seen as a look back. And in more ways than one.
The first hint that Sco' is in a reflective mood is from looking at the band's lineup. Drummer Bill Stewart and bass player Steve Swallow had both backed up Scofield on 1994's collaboration with Pat Metheny I Can See Your House From Here, 1996's low-key Quiet, and 2004's live En Route. The association with Steve Swallow goes back even further, as we've explained previously. Scofield considers the rhythm section of The John Scofield Trio to be his "A Team," which is heady praise coming from someone who's invariably had rhythm sections featuring the likes of Charlie Haden, Jack deJohnette, Marc Johnson, and Omar Hakim.
The second — and most important — evidence of the nostalgia is the music itself; it's a hard swinging type of small combo jazz supplemented by a four part horn section. This unique variety of chamber jazz was almost a trademark of Scofield's records from the early-to-mid nineties. But this is the first time he's added the horns to his electric trio (Scofield played acoustic guitar on Quiet). So, followers of that period will be greeted with a very familiar, if not quite identical, sound.
It doesn't seem that way in the opening seconds, however; "The Low Road" starts out just like "Polo Towers" from his acid-jazz record Uberjam with some feedback and a C sharp based dark chord he built the song around. But this time, the song goes down a different path with Stewart's hopping drumwork and the horns accentuating in all the right spots. The leader wastes no time in ripping loose a familiar sizzler of a solo that puts all the right notes in all the right places.
"Down D" has a slightly twisted, lonely Americana feel to it, which is another way of saying it sounds a lot like Bill Frisell. Frisell, incidentally, appears later with tremolo guitar in hand on a cover of "House of The Rising Sun." (Note: Bill Frisell's latest record released just last month is a collaboration with Matt Chamberlain called Floratone, and has an overall feel that's very similar to This Meets That; if you like one, you're bound to like the other.)
"Strangeness In The Night" is where Scofield's experimental melding of chamber jam and post-bop is most successful. It's a tale of two sections; the horn-rich first section struts in a idiosyncratic way, then barely more than a minute into the track, the band breaks into an "Impressions" blues-jazz jam and the horns follow along. The first section returns a couple more times as intermissions between the extended improvisational sections. It's like adding a regal accent to the jams.
"Heck Of A Job" has a Big Easy beat, which paired with the horn section, sounds like a cut off of 1995's creole-flavored Groove Elation.
The next track marks the beginning of the covers, the third indicator that Scofeld is in a wistful mood. And of all the covers, this one is the most effective. Sco' gives this Charlie Rich classic an affecting treatment, carefully plucking and bending his strings to squeeze the right amount of emotion out of the tune.
The aforementioned "House Of The Rising Sun" follows with a completely different arrangement than the original. A much faster tempo provides the platform for the leader to trade some spirited fours with Frisell. "Satisfaction" is also covered later in the album, and both of these familiar oldies were chosen because they were among the very first songs Scofield learned to play on guitar.
"Shoe Dog" is a tune of the country-folk variety that features a precise, characteristic high register bass solo by Swallow. Stewart later adds his own solo, a slow, lazy but real funky one.
"Memorette" is a 6/4-timed, gently urbane piece that provides a chance for Scofield to swing softly but convincingly. "Trio Blues" as just what the title says it is: a blues jam performed by trio (plus horns, of course). Stewart provides some short and sweet fills.
"Pretty Out" sounded familiar to me when I first heard it, and that's because this free-jazz exercise first appeared on Grace Under Pressure from 1992. It's a great tune with a nicely written theme, but in this shorter version, the horns really don't fit in and there's barely time to stretch out. But a welcome change of pace follows with a lively rendering of "Satisfaction."
Recent releases by John Scofield seem to fall into either the "jam band" Sco' or the "arty" Sco'. By now you know this CD falls squarely into the latter category. But anyone who appreciates both the artistry and technique of the man should embrace this record, regardless of what genre you can assign to it. As with a much of his work, good luck trying to neatly pigeonhole it. And that's the beauty of This Meets That: it's dictated more by moods and format, not categories. The commitment to quality makes it all work well.Powered by Sidelines