John Scofield Band
*Business stuff: *
Continuing an extended look at influential guitarists on the scene, this months Audio Files features John Scofield. Krasno and Garcia still hang in the balance, but Im aching to suggest a bunch of other recently acquired discs, so come spring Ill be targeting Project Logic, Miles Davis and maybe even a little Bob Marley. As always, stay in touch (and go to a show!)
John Scofield is a musical chameleon of the first order. While his style and distinctive tones seem to transcend flux, his song writing is tapped directly into whatever cultural movement happens to be dominant. Thus Scofield from the 1980s is distinctly 80s material (for our purposes consider Pick Hits Live.) A piece such as last years It Works for Me, which Scofield called "real jazz", is likewise a very light, swinging jazz recording made with a collection of jazz greats. It was a departure from other recent Scofield releases, such as Bump which fed directly on the jambands scene for its inspiration, evening involving members of Deep Banana Blackout in the Bump Band, and A Go Go, which used the backing band (Medeski, Martin & Wood) to direct the sounds. With the recent release of the poorly titled Uberjam, Sco is back to his forward thinking style. The album is heavily influenced by the techno generation, relying on large sample beds as the foundation of most com! positions. In its own way, however, the album is also departure: it is a real collaborative effort, as the band that produced it has been the standard John Scofield Band for a couple years now. Scos previous three albums have all been recorded by a cast assembled just for the recording, and in some cases, brief supporting tours.
Since this article is about live music, however, lets leave the studio work behind and consider an earlier John Scofield Band. The band that truly made the material first presented on A Go Go its own was the quartet that toured in 1999. It included Matt Garrison on bass (son of Coltrane alumnus Jimmy Garrison), drummer Marlon Browden (who played with the JMP in 2000) and Will Boulware riding the organ. It was a powerhouse unit with a vitality and imagination that is unparalleled, even by Scofields quartet with MMW. The band was constantly churning out new tunes, so that by the end of the collaboration many sets were comprised of nearly fifty- percent new, untitled material. I highly recommend checking out any recording from this line-up. *John Scofield Band @ Ziggys, Winston Salem, NC 3-13-99
Disc 1: A Go Go, Untitled, Groan Man, Kubrick, Green Tea, Chank
Disc 2: Untitled, Hottentot E1: Jungle Fiction E2: Va Voom*
The band digs right into the A Go Go opener from Disc 1. There is plenty of music ahead but the musicians attack the number like its a set closer. What immediately stands out is the lively drumming. Marlon Browden is a fantastic blend of jazzy high hat and steady groover that matches well with Scofields compositions. He also gels with Matt Garrisons equally energetic bass playing; playing that grooves on the low end when necessary, and pops at the just the right moment.
After the very funky opener, with its lengthy, aggressive guitar leads and smooth, but quieter organ solo, the quartet eases into to a hoppin’ little number driven by Garrison. It struts and swaggers, Scos early solo staying in a pleasant, harmonious vein. Garrison creeps through the theme a second time, discovering a calm place with light drumming, short guitar licks and an ethereal buzz. Slowly Scofield tries to climb back to the surface and is eventually rewarded with a groovy organ jam. After another go at the theme, Matt takes an extended bass solo that rolls up the frets and spills back down, getting down all the while.
Groan Man is jazzier than its predecessors, but it follows the direction of the set by moving into increasingly introspective territory. Scos guitar is even more classically fluid than on the previous track, and Will Boulwares solo pads softly, a soft shoe dance. With Kubrick the quieting trend finally bottoms out. Scofield is alone noodling slowly for a couple minutes before the band joins to the flush out the ideas he just sketched. Its breezy and beautiful.
Green Tea is one of my favorite John Scofield tunes; in particular I appreciate its balance between spaciness and serious grooving. Boulwares long solo stretches out from hazy places, rising up to touch off Scofields lead, which travels much the same course. But about four and a half minutes in, the guitarist begins to race himself and taunt the rhythm section. By the end, the group is whizzing about en masse. A fine drum solo separates the jam from the end of the song.
A perfect coupling, Green Tea is followed by the exceedingly groovalicious Chank. Boulware rubs down the lead as Sco peels out the rhythm riffs. Guitar gets the first solo, beginning it delicately, but incrementally adding muscle. A second idea has more reverb in it and draws out some fun dynamics from the bass. Speed increases and the whole quartet charges at the theme. Just as Scofield followed Wills path in the previous song, the organist follows Johns path in Chank, going from quiet to funky to full blown jam. Its the perfect way to end the disc.
But wait, theres more. Disc 2 begins with the airy tones of another untitled piece, after which the band launches into Hottentot. They hit the theme of the groove masterpiece (a piece infrequently covered by both Lettuce and Soulive) with some fine, precise guitar work. Immediately after, however, Sco attacks his strings, grating and scratching like a DJ. His solo commands attention and the crowd releases a cheer when its done. Garrison pops in, knocking around with the guitarist and within moments there is a full jam back to the theme.
Now Boulware takes over with a mellow groove made buoyant by percussion. It bobs and dips and eventually the guitar rises to dominate. A crazy bubble swells and busts wide open, spraying the soundscape with strange squiggles that slowly bring about the end of the tune, and the set.
The audience is treated with a double encore. First the band chooses into Jungle Fiction, at the time still untitled. This tune has been crucial in John Scofields development as a songwriter. For years, he has commented on the "jungle sound" of various tunes, a sound that is embodied in this song. The open, slightly aggressive rhythm structure and clean, somewhat fluid lead clearly affected much of the material that appeared on "Bump", and some of what is on "Uberjam" (where, incidentally, the song appears, 4 years after its debut). The end of this version is split wide open by Garrisons and Browdens deluge of notes that pushes Scos melody into the background. Its a role reversal: the rhythm section in the lead, and the soloists backing it up.
Returning for a second time, the quartet works out on Va Voom, a joint fueled by loose, energetic skin dancing. The tune moves in and out of an easy, effervescent rise, lengthy jangling solos connecting the composed touchstones. The performance is jazzy and quiet, reminiscent of ideas from earlier in the set- a nice way to end the evening, and the disc. *Its Official: Schleigho, Live at Ho-Down 2ooo, Flying Frog Records
Go Children Slow, Continent, Matrices, Witch Hunt *
Schleigho is certainly one of those bands, like Percy Hill and Uncle Sammy, that is simply not as popular as it should be. Its great skill, and perhaps great hindrance, is its ability slip away from the groove jazz that seems to be everywhere, and into a classic Birth of the Cool sounding jazz. In the summer of 2000, the band held its annual Ho-Down in the remote (were talking dirt roads) environs of Wendell State Park in northern Mass. It festival featured JMP, the Derek Trucks Band and Soulive among others, and Schleigho used parts of its Saturday night set to create a really excellent live disc.
The first track, Go Children Slow, is an 18-minute exploration that begins with the distinctive warble of special guest Derek Trucks. Kofi Burbridge also joins in for the tune, adding some fantastic flute work. The disc also includes a lighter, jazzier version of Continent, replete with sparkling keys and a resonant upright bass. The final track, also in the jazz vein, is a clean cover of Wayne Shorters Witch Hunt with guest saxophonist Joshua Smith. In between, however, is the centerpiece of the disc, a 25 plus minute Matrices that shows off the versatility of the band. The music flows through varied territory, at times melodic, at times haunting, at times grand in its scope.