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Live Reviews

Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 4-6, June 27-29, 2010

By Published: July 1, 2010

June 27: John Scofield and the Piety Street Band

Speaking with Jon Cleary after Scofield's show, the British-born keyboardist/singer—born in the UK but moving to New Orleans in his late teens and, consequently, retaining his least when speaking—said that it would have been great to have had the chance to hit the road before recording Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009) with Scofield. As good as the album is—one of the guitarist's best fringes-of-jazz albums in recent years, where he has regularly alternated between those and more decidedly jazz dates—live, the guitarist took the material to far greater heights, stretching out on eight of the album's thirteen tracks, and adding a couple of new songs to the mix. Also on hand from the album was bassist/vocalist George Porter Jr., who laid down an unshakable anchor that, at the same time, was incredibly pliant, working tongue-and-groove with drummer Terrence Higgins.

Beginning the set with the same one-two punch that opens the album—the bright, gospel-inflected "That's Enough" and greasier "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," Scofield demonstrated his remarkable and distinctive ability to take the most "inside" music out, with solos that, by moving "outside" just enough to build some serious tension, ultimately released when they resolved back in. Surprising some of the guitar geeks in the audience by playing a Fender Stratocaster on "That's Enough," he alternated with his usual Ibanez semi-hollowbody—also playing, for the most part, with his fingers, and only resorting to a pick when he cranked up the velocity later in the set, on songs like "Gloryland," where he played a lengthy a capella intro that also brought some of his effects, built into a massive pedal board, into play.

For a guitarist who came to an arsenal of effects relatively late in the game—when he formed his Überjam (Verve, 2002) band—Scofield has managed to create an electronic soundscape all his own. He employed circuitous loops and reverse delay on "Gloryland," and created a lengthy loop of tremelo'd chords to support more soloing at the start of "Angel of Death"—a ballad introduced at great length as the guitarist, clearly—and comedically—searching for ways to articulate just how scary its lyrics were, finally broke things up saying "So, how's the whole repartee thing going? I think it's working..."

George Porter, Jr.,

Porter largely contributed background vocals for the smooth-voiced Cleary, whose soulful but restrained delivery was a treat throughout the set, but the bassist did take lead mike for the funky "Never Turn Back," with a grittier voice that, like Cleary's, sat well behind the beat to give it a relaxed vibe that pulled in rather than pushed out. Without soloing, Porter—a founding member of The Meters and, since then, a busy session player—proved why he's such a legend on the New Orleans scene, with lines that seemed to stretch the pulse without ever losing it. Higgins has equal but different cred, a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
, but he delivered one of the most unusual solos from a drummer in recent memory, eschewing the usual multi-limb, "look at me" pyrotechnics in favor of nothing more than a bass drum and a tambourine during the uplifting set closer, "It's a Big Army"—though what he did with just those two instruments was plenty more than enough.

The only thing to mar the performance was rain, which began as a drizzle half-way through the set, but turned heavier towards its end. Still, a sign of a great show is when the audience sticks it out, and relatively few people left the park, with those remaining on their feet and demanding an encore. Scofield introduced Cleary—the youngest member of the group (under 50), who'd already acquitted himself as a singer, pianist and organist—as a great guitarist and, after the show, he confirmed that he actually started on the instrument before moving to piano in his teens. Picking up a Strat for the encore—"I Don't Need No Doctor," from Scofield's Ray Charles

Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
tribute, That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (Verve, 2005)—Cleary engaged in some thrilling trade-offs with Scofield, belying his later comment that, playing only one song a night, he felt a little clumsy. Nobody but Cleary would have noticed any missteps, and if there was one complaint, it was that his volume wasn't quite equal to Sco's and so while his solos were plenty soulful, they lacked some of the "oomph" that that would have made them truly stand out.

Terrence Higgins

That said, Scofield clearly admires Cleary, introducing the song by telling the crowd that "Cleary does all the things that I can't...but that's ok because the Angel of Death is coming and I'm a soldier in the army of the Lord!" Scofield may have wondered how his repartee was doing partway through the show, but between his endless ability to bring a more sophisticated harmonic sensibility to his soloing on songs rooted in New Orleans, gospel and funk, the exhilarating support of his Piety Street Band, and the soulful vocals of Cleary and Porter, he had absolutely nothing to worry about.

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