John Scofield at Jazz Cafe, London
March 29, 2008
How to begin a review of a concert at which one's musical outlook has been picked up, shaken about, flung around haphazardly and finally set back down in a completely different state?
John Scofield has enjoyed a rich and varied career, the nature of which is aptly mirrored in his guitar playing. Material from his latest album, This is That (Emarcy, 2008), was the subject of his two-night stand at London's Jazz Cafe. The occasion was an increasingly rare instance of the venue living up to its name: jazz doesn't get much more serious than this.
Scofield's classic trio format, with stalwart sideman Bill Stewart on drums and bassist Matt Penman ably deputising for Steve Swallow (who plays on the album), was augmented by a three-piece horn section. This textural color added another wonderful dimension to the guitarist's already intricate musical language. Whether providing sharp stabs of sound on "Heck of a Job" or smoother, elegant chords on a number such as "Shoe Dog," the arrangements were perfectly fitted. This exciting orchestral resource could have been easily overused, but Scofield's playing remained at the forefront while the core trio was never crowded out. Though never intrusive, the unusual orchestration remained vivid and unpredictable at the same time.
As for the man himself, he possesses one of the most unique guitar voices in modern music. Its bendy brilliance, from twisted country to straight-up bebop and funk-drenched wah effects, represents an eclectic yet historically comprehensive journey for the active listener. The layers of altered harmony which spring up between passages of blues, bop or casual swing can sound strange and unusual but never wrong or misplaced. Think Wes Montgomery crossed with Jimi Hendrixand that's not even half of the story.
As a creative concept, Scofield's music is highly accessible for devotees of all the aforementioned genresas the Jazz Cafe's booking manager would no doubt testify. When Scofield steps out to centre stage, his epic facial contortions matching the howl of his electric guitar, there is something undeniably rock'n'roll about this balding 56-year-old from Ohio.