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John Scofield: Combo 66

Doug Collette By

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The dignified portraits of John Scofield on the front and back covers of Combo 66 are at once in keeping with the reference to his age in the album's name and at odds with the youthful vigor he and his bandmates exhibit in playing the music inside this subtly eye-catching package of all new material.

No wonder there's no formal credit for production in the liner details. As on "Can't Dance," the musicianship no doubt flowed effortlessly and naturally. Nevertheless, it's wondrous to hear how many fluid changes take place just within the first minute of this opening track: it's not like even the most consummate players can always listen and react that quickly, but these four exhibit good instincts, attentive listening and the ability to anticipate each other.

As "Uncle Southern" demonstrates, each musician allows ideas to unfold in their own time before extending a particular train of thought. Likewise, the impromptu foray on the longest track here, "New Waltzo," is a welcome change-up, at least in part, to the otherwise structured arrangements: the foursome abruptly leave the changes of that number behind in an expression of joyful serendipity before regrouping.

During such interactions, the rhythm section of bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Bill Stewart has an almost subliminal impact. Yet even when directing attention closely to this long-time collaborator of Scofield's locked in tight with the precocious young bassist, a listener doesn't so much hear but feel their playing, particularly when the whole quartet is moving at the fleet pace it takes on "Icons At The Fair." Recording and mixing engineer Jay Newland does justice to the delicious simplicity of this instrumental alignment, as does the man who mastered the recording, Mark Wilder.

While the musicianship and the sonics offer reasons enough to play this record repeatedly, hearing the likes of material such as "Willa Jean" is ample attraction too. Even as he's engaged in funk forays with Medeski Martin & Wood, rocked the blues with Gov't Mule and traveled into deep space with Trio Beyond (aka (Larry Goldings and Jack DeJohnette), Scofield has also developed a touch for arresting melody over the years and this one, with its sly hook, begs to be heard over and over on its own terms.

One bonafide guitar hero who can truly write, John Scofield rises to the greatest challenge of a composer, that is, formulating balladry of high order, with "I'm Sleeping In." Following those suitably soft tones with the bright jump blues of "King of Belgium" as the closer illustrates the logic of the album's sequencing. It's yet another virtue by which Combo 66 can be accurately compared to those vintage jazz recordings its title calls to mind.

Track Listing: Can’t Dance; Combo Theme; Icons at the Fair; Willa Jean; Uncle Southern; Dang Swing; New Waltzo; I’m Sleeping In; King of Belgium.

Personnel: John Scofield: guitar; Bill Stewart: drums; Gerald Clayton: piano, organ; Vicente Archer: double bass.

Title: Combo 66 | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Verve Music Group

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