John Scofield has spent the best part of his illustrious career leading or co-leading trios and quartets, with just the occasional quintet or sextet outing. Even his only duo collaboration, Solar
(Palo Alto, 1984) with John Abercrombie
, expanded to a quartet with George Mraz
and Peter Donald
on three of the seven tracks. Yes, Scofield enjoys company. So, forty-five years and as many albums after his debut as leader, Scofield breaks the mould with his first solo album. Well, solo guitar with loops that is, for the Ohio-born guitarist accompanies himself on the bulk of these tunes.
While it marks a radical departure from Scofield's well-beaten path, it is not a radical or experimental solo work in the vein of, say, Pat Metheny
's Zero Tolerance for Silence
(Geffen, 1994) or Bill Frisell
's Silent Comedy
(Tzadik, 2013). On the contrary, Scofield delivers five originals, unpacks a few standards, re-imagines traditional folk and blues nuggets and embraces his love of early rock 'n' roll and country. You see? Nothing to worry about after all.
Over the gentlest strumming, Scofield delivers a tender reading of Keith Jarrett
's "Coral." So personal is Scofield's interpretation, in fact, that it is only fleetingly recognizable as the pianist's tune. No liberties are taken with the melody of "Danny Boy"; once rendered, however, Scofield embarks on a beguiling improvisation of folksy characterblues and Celtic-tingedover a shruti box-type drone. Scofield mines another traditional tune, "Junco Partner," an old prison blues inspired by New Orleans blues pianist Willie Hall's "Junker Blues;" Scofield's slow and sunny vibe belies the original song's tale of the costs of drug abuse.
Given that Scofield's discography as leader only features around a dozen standards, the three presented here represent a veritable glut. Breezy readings of "It Could Happen To You" and "There Will Never Be Another You" see the guitarist in full flow, expansive yet ever-faithful to the melodies. Perhaps the pick of the bunch, however, is Sam Coslow & Arthur Johnson's "My Old Flame," which underscores Scofield's affinity with a ballad. Likewise, the slow tempi of self-penned oldies "Honest I Do" and the delightful "Mrs. Scofield's Waltz" accentuate the deeply felt lyricism which is one of Scofield's less heralded hallmarks.
Scofield taps into the blues againand a little of the spirit of Wes Montgomery
on the swinging "Elder Dance, " rocks out on Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" over a Bo Diddley
rhythm and cranks it up on a typically gnarly post-bop burner, "Trance de Jour." In a gently lilting finale, Scofield draws soulful country twangs from his strings on Hank William's handsome "You Win Again," recalling the atmosphere, albeit in more stripped-down form, of Country for Old Men
At seventy, Scofield remains one of the most distinctive, inventive and brilliant of modern jazz guitarists. Modern, but deeply rooted in a plethora of traditions. His first solo effortbut hopefully not his lastprovides ample proof of that.
Coral; Honest I Do; It Could Happen to You; Danny Boy; Elder Dance; Mrs. Scofield's Waltz; Junco Partner; There Will Never Be Another You; My Old Flame; Not Fade Away; Since You Asked; Trance de Jour; You Win Again.
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