Cerebral jazz fans play in the same sound box as the John Scofield Trio does for 73 minutes of collective prowess. EnRoute is aptly named, for it is a musical journey whose speculative effect needs no conclusion. The trip is worth a long ride and that is what we get.
John Scofield’s exercise of unconventional playing embraces the kind of musical exploration that drives jazz forward with optimism. In nine songs, Scofield articulates ideas whose foundations transcend so many boundaries that EnRoute could serve as an educational analysis of improvisation.
The live recording provides quite a set. On “Wee,” drummer Bill Stewart’s downbeats nicely propel Scofield’s improvisations on the beat to encourage and anticipate the combustion that follows. On “Toogs,” Scofield’s guitar surges and recedes like a tide that one can only feel inside the groove. “Over Big Top” concludes the recording in the more reverent style that has characterized Scofield’s career.
Bill Stewart’s holistic approach to the drums speaks volumes about the power of jazz literacy in younger players. Stewart, younger than his trio mates by decades, clearly inspires Scofield and Swallow into areas that jazz drumming often dares not to go. Stewart’s fearless quest for greater rhythmic literacy drives the cumulative innovation of this record.
“Hammock Soliloquy” is the highlight of EnRoute. Scofield, Swallow and Stewart revisit the hammock theme in altered reprise to show us how far a field they take us in between such returns. Swallow’s solo raises the bass clef to the height of seasoned creativity. Stewart’s multitudinous tom work lulls us inside our own serenity before returning to the final refrain. This is one literary soliloquy.
“Over Big Top” is precisely the tour de force that concludes a record of huge aspiration. Take the most intense and inspired playing one can imagine on bass, guitar and drums, give each its turn to raise the instrument’s playing to the status of anthem and you get this eleven minutes. By song’s end, listeners cheer as loudly as the crowd at the Blue Note did when this record was documented.
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This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Personnel: John Scofield: electric guitar; Steve Swallow: electric bass; Bill Stewart: drums.