John Scofield and Joe Lovano at the Regattabar

Dave Dorkin By

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John Scofield and Joe Lovano
Cambridge, MA
September 18, 2015

John Scofield has appeared in so many different musical settings, particularly in the past twenty years, that it is easy to forget that while he is capable of exquisite blues, funk, rock and fusion, it is in the company of perhaps his finest straight-ahead quartet that he burns brightest. Similarly, though tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano has garnered acclaim for decades now and his group and solo projects have multiplied, it is in John Scofield's presence that Lovano's playing acquires an additional intensity and focus.

One could be forgiven for thinking this historic quartet had never disbanded twenty years ago given the seamless interaction on this first date of their US and European tour. The only real indication of the passage of time was the addition of bassist Ben Street (given bassist Dennis Irwin's passing in 2008) who has also toured with Scofield in recent years and who held down the bottom end with precision and swing. Drummer Bill Stewart who rose to prominence with Scofield many years ago is never more impressive or comfortable than when he is playing with Scofield; Stewart's swing and deceptively inventive style have always been particularly well-suited to Scofield's own and the two seem telepathic in their connection.

The set was composed primarily of originals from the quartet's new Past Present album and swung hard in the post-bop way one might expect from the group, with Scofield in particular spicing things up with even more visceral splashes of the blues with which he has always been engaged throughout his career (and even more so recently in collaborations with Robben Ford and Warren Haynes). One highlight of the set was the Lovano penned original blues, "Big Ben" which was dedicated to Ben Webster and highlighted Lovano's connection to a tenor tradition largely absent from today's more advanced players.

An exceptional encore performance of Body and Soul demonstrated Scofield's refined harmonic pallette, penchant for intervallic invention and the delicate interaction between all members of the quartet and particularly that between Scofield and Lovano. Though perhaps one of the most classic of all classic jazz ballads, the quartet makes the tune sound fresh and as if it were a piece of original music mirroring the way in which they made their own brand new compositions sound at once novel and familiar. Here's hoping we don't have to wait a few more decades for a repeat run.
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