Scofield Revisits His Past in Jazz at Lincoln Center Concert

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John Scofield performed songs from 1976's Blue Matter and 1996's Quiet during a retrospective of his work at Jazz at Lincoln Center May 5–6. (Photo: Courtesy johnscofield.com/Rick Marone))

While still basking in the glow of his recent Best Jazz Instrumental Album Grammy win for Country For Old Men (Impulse!) and getting ready for the June release of Hudson, the debut outing of a new all-star band featuring drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier and keyboardist John Medeski, guitarist John Scofield went back in time to recreate the music of two potent albums from his past—1986’s Blue Matter and 1996’s Quiet— in a retrospective concert held at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room May 5–6 in New York City. Curated by Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jason Olaine, this rare evening presented two complementary sides of Scofield’s considerable musicality.

Just as Miles Davis had revisited tunes from Sketches Of Spain at the 1991 Montreal Jazz Festival 30 years after he recorded that classic material, Scofield looked back fondly on Blue Matter in his two-night engagement. As he said after the show, “Now I’m a different person, I’m into different stuff, but I’m really glad that I did it. Because what I learned was that I’m very proud of that music and that it was really fun and inspiring for me to go back and play that music with those guys. We hadn’t played together in 30 years, but the rehearsal was this joy-fest, because we all really became good friends back in the ’80s, and we haven’t spent much time together since then. So it just felt like home to me.”

Blue Matter captured a quintessentially mid-’80s sound in its tightly executed unisons, intricate stop-time lines and funk-fusion underpinnings of Scofield’s urgent electric guitar in synch with Gary Grainger’s bright slap bass and drummer Dennis Chambers’ powerhouse groove. Filling out the quartet this evening, providing a distinctly ’80s edge, was veteran keyboardist-arranger Jim Beard, who did not appear on the original Gramavision album but did tour with the Scofield band during the mid 1980s.

The Blue Matter band opened their half of the show with “Dance Me Home” (which actually was from 1988’s Loud Jazz), setting a dynamic tone with Chambers’ double bass drum locked up with rhythm partner Grainger. They delivered an upbeat vibe on the calypso flavored “So You Say,” then conjured up a D.C. go-go beat on the slow-grooving funk of “Blue Matter.”

The guitarist dug in and testified with toe-curling, Albert King-inspired intensity on the gospel-tinged “Heaven Hill.” And they closed their set with the Chambers showcase “Trim,” which had the drummer morphing into Tony Williams’ signature shuffle beat on Stanley Clarke’s jam-oriented “Lopsy Lu” before unleashing with polyrhythmic aplomb against a full band ostinato. “The first night was just sort of getting through the cobwebs,” Scofield said of playing this material 30 years later. “And then the second night it was, ‘OK, we got it down, let’s burn!’” And so they did, with compelling authority.

On his aptly-titled 1997 Verve release, Quiet, Scofield performed strictly on nylon string guitar in a subdued nonet setting—his Birth Of The Cool, if you will. For this concert, he stuck with his black 1985 Ibanez semi hollow electric guitar, providing a bit more bite on lush offerings like “After The Fact,” “Tulle” and “Hold That Thought.”

Saxophonist Joe Lovano (filling in for Wayne Shorter, who had played on the original recording) embraced this mellow material with a sense of propriety, delivering some passionate and poignant tenor solos along the way.

The sensitive rhythm tandem of drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Larry Grenadier played with consummate elegance throughout the set, while the combination of two French horns (John Clark, Jeffrey Scott), flugelhorn (Michael Rodriguez), bass clarinet (Roger Rosenberg) and English horn (Charles Pillow) provided the requisite warmth and luxurious tones befitting the album’s title. And the guitarist, who played straight to the amp with no effects on this program, imbued each melodic nugget with his signature six-string flow and bent-string expressions. DB


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January 2018
Esperanza Spalding
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