It's been nearly a decade since John Scofield hooked up with jam band favorites Medeski, Martin and Wood for A Go Go (Verve, 1998), an album that singlehandedly placed the guitarist on the radar of a younger and enthusiastic demographic. Given that Scofield wrote all the material, A Go Go was unequivocally his project. On the other hand, Out Louder is clearly a more democratic affair. Half of the album consists of flat-out jams, while the balance is a mix of material from the public domain and pieces by Scofield, bassist Chris Wood, reggae legend Peter Tosh and the Beatles.
A Go Go was a great recorda classic, in factbut the collaborative nature and broader scope of Out Louder makes it perhaps more satisfying. Jams like "Down the Tube are kept interesting by the rhythm section's unerring groove and the interplay between Scofield and keyboardist Medeskiwho draws on a wider array of textures than he did on A Go Go. Scofield is working with a larger arsenal of processing gear, which means there's more ear candy from him as well. But the eleven-minute "Down the Tube, despite revolving around a couple of simple vamps, demonstrates a deeper connection between MMW and Scofield. Halfway through it dissolves into a brief period of chaos, only to reposition itself with a snakier groove, over which Medeski's mellotron and Scofield's whammy'd guitar take things farther out.
The other jams are considerably shorter. "Miles Behind works an up-tempo beat that wouldn't have been out of place in the late trumpeter's final decade; Medeski and Scofield deliver fiery solos throughout. "In Case the World Changes Its Mind is greasier, while "Hanuman, with Scofield's whammy'd guitar, sounds like something off Uberjam (Verve, 2002), but with greater density. Scofield can still deliver sinewy lines that skirt the edge of the outside with delicious tension, but he's evolved into a greater soundscaper as well, which allows him to fit far better with MMW's established aesthetic.
Scofield's "Little Walter Rides Again opens the disc and sounds like a logical progression from A Go Go. Billy Martin's sloppy feel on the drums and Wood's approach to the bass, which owes more than a little to the staggered approach of the late Rick Danko from the Band, take a simple premise and keep it intriguing. Martin's two contributions include the Latin-esque "Tequila and Chocolate and the descending changes of "Cachaça, which find Scofield at his most harmonically sophisticated.
The understated highlight of the album is MSMW's take of the Beatles' "Julia. While the bulk of Out Louder relies on deep groove and sonic breadth, the melodic and textural simplicity of this tune demonstrate that the choices made throughout the album are indeed choices, and that MSMW is equally capable of unaffected lyricism.
A Go Go may have been more centered by being the project of one artist, but what Out Louder lacks in sheer focus it makes up for in greater experimentation and a more collective sense of purpose.
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Personnel: John Medeski: keyboards; John Scofield: guitar; Chris Wood: bass; Billy Martin: drums.