m – John Scofield Band
Verve Music Group 01157-2
Through rose colored glasses, Uberjam is a love letter to Jam Nation; through
less innocent eyes, it is a contrived shot at contemporary cred from a
revered jazz and groove stylist who needed none. As his old band leader
Miles Davis did in Doo Bop, Scofield trots out all the latest
styles here, from drum-n-bass to jungle and even hip-hop, seemingly
eager to prove that he's still down with the kids. All of the kids.
Unfortunately, these styles too often feel like accessories or
adornments rather than organic and integral elements of the music.
Scofield manages to forge a promising start. "Acidhead" hangs loosely
on raga samples and tabla rhythms, and features some oddball Mellotron
work from John Medeski that very nearly earns the track its name.
"Ideofunk" finds guest flautist Karl Denson making the most of a I-II,
"Rock Around the Clock"
meets"Fire On the Mountain" vamp. So far, so
"Jungle Fiction," a drum-n-bass thing, feels ill mated with Scofield's
pass-the-chorus structures. Drum-n-bass and its relatives are serious
idioms with serious revelations for the musician that approaches them
with rigor, but little of that rigor is in evidence here. "I Brake 4
Monster Booty," a faint-hearted stab at instrumental hip-hop, actually
suggests Spyro Gyra at times (which I can only pray is unintentional),
and "Animal Farm" feels less like an actual song than an impromptu jam
that musicians of this caliber could pull off at sound check. No real
heads here, no real hooks… and despite, the fact that we're aswim in
chops, we're feeling a bit out to sea.
Fortunately, along comes "Offspring," the album's finest track. This
densely charted (at least by comparison) jazz tune allows Scofield's
air-tight band to work over some meatier changes, and soon shapeshifts
into a thing of angry beauty. "Tomorrow Land," a moody piece written by
JSB rhythm guitar phenom Avi Bortnick, graces us with our first real
taste of Sco-as-we-knew-him — teasing, prodding, trailing the beat,
sailing along buoyantly on his cleaner tones. It's a nice one-two
recovery, but our man has yet to stick the landing.
Almost predictably, the title track under-delivers on its Nietzschean
promise; "Uberjam" humdrums along in a monochromatic smolder for five
minutes before the familiar chorus melody of Rodgers and Hart's "Blue
Moon" appears. (Please don't get me wrong. "Blue Moon" is a swell old
song. I'm simply not sure what it's doing here.) "Polo Towers"
benefits from a cheeky hook and the freshest Grant-Green-in-an-aquarium
lead work Scofield offers on the whole album, but by now we've run a
marathon and we're sucking fumes. "Snap Crackle Pop" and "Lucky For
Her" stagger across the finish line to the polite cheers of family and
close friends, and that – to bite Carl Spackler – is all she wrote.
Uberjam isn't a poor record by most standards, this is, after
all, John Scofield. It's merely too soberly calculated, too genuinely
eager to be everything to everyone, and so it spreads itself thin.