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Gov't Mule with John Scofield at the Ogden Theatre

Geoff Anderson By

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Gov't Mule with John Scofield
Ogden Theatre
Denver, CO
February 24, 2015

A jazz guy plays with a heavy rock band? That would be the superficial description of Sco-Mule. A deeper examination shows that John Scofield and Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes are twin brothers of different mothers. Each possesses a yearning, restless soul, constantly seeking new musical forms and combinations. Each is fearless behind his guitar. And each is possessed of a virtuoso talent and, seemingly, can do whatever he wants.

Scofield first came to prominence in the late '70s and early '80s by appearing with folks such as Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Billy Cobham, George Duke, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis. That placed him in the jazz camp, although that roster of musicians covers a wide swath of musical ground. Even before those associations, he came up playing loads of blues and R&B, influences that continue to shape his sound and interests. Then there's the funk streak. Not too many years go by between Scofield funk offerings, often with the jam-funk trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, whose married name is now Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood.

And so it is with Warren Haynes. His earliest shot at stardom was with the Allman Brothers Band. It was during his stint with that band that he formed Gov't Mule as a side project. He's also played with post-Garcia Dead and with a long list of musicians from the worlds of rock, blues and jazz. Guest musicians during Gov't Mule shows are more common than Boston snowstorms.

And so Sco-Mule makes perfect sense. This combination actually goes back over 15 years. In September 1999, Scofield got together with the Mule for a couple shows in Georgia that turned out very well. That first collaboration was preserved on tape and has just been commercially released for the first time. Sco-Mule has reunited occasionally over the years, but this current tour keeps them together for many dates across the country.

Tuesday night at the Ogden Theatre, these two world class guitarists searched, explored and ultimately conquered the challenge of fusing at least a half dozen different, divergent and sometimes unruly musical forms. Scofield played about two-thirds of the time with the beginning of each set devoted to straight-up Mule tunes including three from the band's latest studio album Shout (Blue Note, 2013).

It almost seemed like two different concerts. The Mule tunes all featured Haynes' vocals (as well as his guitar, of course) and, although they generally had room for solos by Haynes and keyboard player Danny Louis (and even a bass solo by Jorgen Carlsson), they all had fairly extensive arrangements with different sections twisting and turning throughout. The majority of the tunes featuring Scofield were instrumentals.

Many of the tunes Scofield played on featured twin harmony guitars and extended sections for serious soloing. From their earliest days, up until their end last year, the Allman Brothers were always known for their twin harmony guitars. So it was only obvious and natural that Haynes, as a latter day member of that outfit, would jump on the opportunity to harmonize with Scofield. In fact, the first harmony guitar piece of the night was "Instrumental Illness," an Allman Brothers' tune from the early part of this century. Sco-Mule followed that one Tuesday night with Jeff Beck's "Freeway Jam" which was another perfect pick (although the writing credit for that song goes to Max Middleton, Beck's keyboard man). Beck is another genre-bending artist, who first came to prominence as a rock guitarist and later explored jazz which is where "Freeway Jam" traces its lineage.

Although the Mule generally plays its vast repertoire (300 or so tunes) from memory (with perhaps some occasional printed lyrical help for Haynes), Scofield had a music stand on stage for the intricate unison playing. Some of those harmony parts on "Instrumental Illness" and "Freeway Jam" were a touch ragged here and there, but the overall effect was solid. Tuesday night's show was about the sixth one on the tour, but because the Mule mixes up its set lists, it was only about the third time in concert for "Instrumental Illness" and the first for "Freeway Jam" on the tour.

Scofield also joined the Mule during the first set for "Night Time is the Right Time," a great blues tune Ray Charles used to do. That one gave Haynes and Scofield the chance to trade bluesy licks. Scofield recorded that tune a few years ago on his Ray Charles tribute disc, That's What I Say (Verve, 2005). Haynes was a guest artist on the album and that very tune.

While Haynes ran through at least half a dozen different guitars throughout the evening, Scofield generally stuck to a single Ibanez hollow body. The only exception was when he picked up a solid body electric for some solos on the encore. Each player had lengthy solos on just about every tune, sometimes trading licks back and forth. Each is a professional that gives it all he's got for each performance, but some friendly competition didn't hurt and both Scofield and Haynes responded with fierce, emotional solos all evening. The solos of each player reflected, at least a little, his background with Scofield's jazz influence at or just below the surface most of the time. Haynes, meanwhile, was more consistently bluesy and favored the occasional rock power chord.

The unison playing tightened up considerably in the second set. A highlight was Scofield's composition "Hottentot" from A Go Go (Verve, 1998) That one had the guitarists locked together like a couple of sumo wrestlers. The follow up tune was written by another Miles alum, Wayne Shorter. "Tom Thumb" fit right in amongst the jazz-rock-blues jamming. The closer of the second set, Little Feat's "Spanish Moon" was a highlight of the show. The choice of this tune was another natural because it's one the Mule has covered over the years and it fits perfectly with Scofield's funk fixation. On this one, keyboard player Louis broke out a valve trombone and joined the guitarists in their unison playing on the signature lick, adding a little New Orleans flavor to the festivities. Haynes tapped Louis for a solo and at one point he soloed on the trombone and Hammond B-3 simultaneously (would that be a duet selfie?).

Sco-Mule wrapped up the evening with John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" for the encore. This one was much more subdued than the frantic, funky "Spanish Moon," but the band raised the intensity level in the middle and it proved to be an excellent choice to leave the audience wanting more.

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