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John Scofield: Peaceful Pursuits

John Scofield: Peaceful Pursuits
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Sometimes a recording comes together easily, with a minimum of muss or fuss. Other times, life seems to conspire against it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't get done, or that it suffers as a result. Sometimes, in fact, it can make the end result even better. For John Scofield—one-third of a power trifecta of guitarists, also including Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
and Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
), who emerged in the mid-1970s to become some of their generation's most influential and highly regarded jazz artists—the road to his latest release, the aptly titled A Moment's Peace (EmArcy, 2011), was riddled with complications. But the end result is a set that stands out among the plethora of ballads albums flooding the market these days, with its unique combination of standards, less-traveled covers and Scofield originals delivered with more gentleness than is, perhaps, expected from a guitarist capable of searing paint off a wall.

Still, despite its largely relaxed nature and slower tempos, A Moment's Peace manages to come to a near boil at times—no surprise, given the powerful group that ultimately converged for a couple days in January, 2011, at Sear Sound in New York City: keyboardist Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
b.1968
keyboard
(making A Moment's Peace a recording reunion of sorts, having last worked on Trio Beyond's Saudades [ECM, 2006], in 2004); ubiquitous and ever-adaptable bassist Scott Colley
Scott Colley
Scott Colley
b.1963
bass
; and Brian Blade
Brian Blade
Brian Blade
b.1970
drums
, a drummer who, like Scofield, is perhaps better known for his unbridled power and sheer improvisational energy than the soft approach and subtle nuances he demonstrates here.

Chapter Index
  1. The Road to A Moment's Peace
  2. Song Choices
  3. Coming to Jazz via Blues ... and The Beatles
  4. Miles Davis ... and Gil Evans
  5. No Longer a Jazz Snob: Electric Outlet
  6. Moving Forward
  7. Producing
  8. A Changing Landscape
  9. Always Looking Ahead



The Road to A Moment's Peace

"This one had some bumps along the way," Scofield explains. "I started off wanting to do a record with [Norwegian keyboardist] Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
b.1964
piano
, and so I was thinking what kind of record could we do together. I thought of making a really lyrical record. I'm a fan of his solo piano stuff and the duo records he did with [Norwegian singer] Sidsel Endresen
Sidsel Endresen
Sidsel Endresen

vocalist
: Duplex Ride (Curling Legs, 1998), Nightsong (Curling Legs, 1999), and Out Here. In There (Jazzland, 2002), which I really, really love. And I was thinking that, rather than the groove stuff that he does, which I love too, it would be nice to do a really quiet record. Then it turned out that he couldn't tour this summer, after the record was released—because at that point the record was supposed to be released everywhere in the spring. So he couldn't do it, and that's on hold, but it's a project I still want to do sometime; I really want to do something with Bugge at some point.

"Then, I thought, I'd been playing with [pianist] Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
1955 - 2013
piano
a lot," Scofield continues, "and he's so great, so I thought it would be great to use him, and make it more of a jazz ballads record. But then Mulgrew had a stroke last October—a mini-stroke, not a full stroke, a mini- stroke. He is now fully recovered, but he couldn't really do the recording in January, when I wanted to do it. So I called an old partner and really active musical associate of mine, Larry Goldings. We've played together for many years, and played a bunch together at some duo concerts in Italy the Christmas before last, so I asked him.

"Then the project started to change in my head too, because when you bring in Larry, there's a lot of stuff that he and I do together, and stuff that he does and really excels at, that I wanted to feature—and that also included playing the organ. Brian Blade on drums had always been the guy I'd wanted to play with, and Scott Colley on bass; they were always the rhythm section. But I think, in a way, having Larry was just perfect for the record; he brings so much to it."

The closest thing Scofield has done to A Moment's Peace was Quiet, his first recording for Verve in 1996, after a seven-year run on the equally prestigious Blue Note label. But while Quiet was, with Scofield limiting himself to acoustic guitar, an album of gentle beauty, it was by no means a ballads record. In addition to being a mix of originals and covers, A Moment's Peace, on the other hand, is one—though with Scofield back on his main electric axe, there are places where the temperature can't help but rise.

With the playing on A Moment's Peace never anything less than stellar, its relaxed vibe is also reflected in the way it was recorded. "We had a one-day rehearsal," says Scofield. "I thought about what tunes to do on this record for months, but as soon as I knew it was going to be Goldings—which was probably two months before we recorded—I honed the song list and sent the guys the lead sheets, and we talked about it a bit. I sent out a couple of recordings of the songs, but it was only the original stuff that I wrote—a live recording of me playing them with my trio with [bassist] Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
b.1940
bass
and [drummer] Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart
b.1966
drums
. Everybody flew in to New York— Larry lives in Los Angeles, and Brian's in Louisiana [though Colley is a New Yorker]— and we had one rehearsal for four or five hours, just to play through the tunes, and then we went into the studio the next day and recorded.

"We did it in two day long days and then mixed for a couple days," Scofield continues. "I think that a lot of the success for a jazz recording has to do with how well it's recorded; that's the final touch. I'm really happy with [engineer] James Farber's work. He decided on the studio to use, Sear Sound—they have old analog equipment—and it was James who decided how to place everybody in the room. With his choice of microphones and all kinds of really subtle things I don't really understand, he really captured it."

"We had to put the Leslie speaker [for the organ] in a booth, so when we recorded with the Leslie, we had to use headphones," Scofield concludes, "but we were all in a room together. But one guy was in one corner and another guy in another. The bass and drums were not isolated in different booths; my guitar amp was in a booth, but the doors were open—they're floor-to-ceiling doors—so we were all in the same room. We still used headphones, though I think Scott and Brian were able to play with one headphone on and one off, which really helped them to maintain this kind of rhythm- section thing. And Farber thinks there's nothing wrong with a little leakage [between the instrumental tracks], unless you want to change stuff and do overdubs—and I do too; it fattens things up a bit.

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