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Depending on your point of view, John Scofield is either hopelessly unfocused or boldly unpredictable. In 1999 he released Bump, a provocative yet ultimately perfunctory, jam-band-meets-electronica statement. Last year he did a 180 with Works For Me, a straight-ahead quintet offering featuring the likes of Brad Mehldau and Kenny Garrett. Now he returns with Uberjam, a project billed under the name of The John Scofield Band, and surely Scofield's most radical departure from jazz yet.
Avi Bortnick, on rhythm guitar and samples, pushes the electronic envelope of this new music, helping to create a sonic fabric far more involved and compelling than Bump. Bassist Jesse Murphy and drummer Adam Deitch stir up the beats, which get quite aggressive on tracks like "Offspring" and "Uberjam." The mix of programmed and live drums is a conscious and often invigorating nod to hip-hop; Deitch even takes to the mic for a brief rap interlude during "I Brake 4 Monster Booty." As the album plays on, it can seem that Bortnick, more than Scofield, is at the creative helm of this band. Not only does he play a hot rhythm guitar (check out "Snap Crackle Pop") and contribute a beguiling original, "Tomorrow Land"; his electro-tweaking of everything, from drums and bass to Scofield's guitar itself, is what keeps the album interesting. Sometimes Sco winds up sounding like a special guest on his own record, noodling over the mean grooves that Bortnick and the boys lay down. Still, the leader's unique compositional voice predominates, at times harking back to old records like Still Warm and Blue Matter.
With Uberjam, we see Scofield's fascination with new electronic music beginning to bear fruit. The concept may be a bit thin in spots, and the hippie imagery on the cover may be a bit much, but Scofield's desire to respond to new creative idioms is laudable.
Track Listing: Acidhead; Ideofunk; Jungle Fiction; I Brake 4 Monster Booty; Animal Farm; Offspring; Tomorrow Land; Uberjam; Polo Towers; Snap Crackle Pop; Lucky For Her.
Personnel: John Scofield: electric guitar; Avi Bortnick: rhythm guitar and samples; Jesse Murphy: bass; Adam Deitch: drums; John Medeski: B3 organ and mellotron (2, 9); Karl Denson: saxophone and flute (2, 9).