John Scofield: Live 3 Ways

John Kelman By

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John Scofield
Live 3 Ways
Blue Note
Recorded 1990; DVD released 2005

At long last Blue Note is digging into their archives and reissuing some of their concert footage, previously only available on long out-of-print videotape, on DVD. While these are bare bones releases — nothing in the way of special features to speak of — they stand on their own as documents that are vital on their own merits.

Arguably the best of the bunch is John Scofield's Live 3 Ways, which finds the guitarist in three different contexts: a trio with Don Pullen on organ and Marvin "Smitty Smith on drums; a duo with pianist Dr. John; and his touring quartet of the time, featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Anthony Cox and drummer John Reilly. The only shame about the DVD is that it is so short — at only 50 minutes, with 13 given to the trio, 9 to the duo and the remaining 28 to the quartet. Still, with performances this strong we should be thankful for what we get.

While each context is different and has its own distinct charm, it's Scofield's truly blended style — which seamlessly combines a rich bebop vernacular with equally deep roots in soul and the blues — that provides the glue joining each set to the next. Whether he's playing the relatively straight-ahead blues of Thelonious Monk's "Bolivar Blues with the trio, the soulful Percy Mayfield "Please Send Me Someone to Love with Dr. John, or the New Orleans second-line of "Cissy Strut with the quartet, Scofield's tone is sharp, his phrasing visceral, his choice of notes and use of space impeccable, and his personal way of bending a note deep down and evocative, regardless of the context.

It's pointless to compare the three segments to decide if any one is better than the others. Given the wealth of soul-jazz out there that is based on the organ trio format, it's surprising that Scofield had never recorded with one previously. His choice of the late Don Pullen couldn't be better. Like Scofield, Pullen was a player who could wear many hats, and wear them with conviction and veracity. In sharp contrast to his work on the recent Mosaic Select 13 box, here Pullen is every bit the groove-meister but, like Scofield, with a much broader harmonic language. One doesn't seem to hear from "Smitty Smith as much these days as in the late '80s and early '90s, and that's a curious shame, because Smith has always been a remarkably versatile drummer, and swings hard on both trio performances here.

Scofield's duets with Dr. John lean more to his soulful roots, and it's a treat to hear Dr. John in a context where his unquestionable talents are stretched a little more than usual.

But the lion's share of the DVD is given to Scofield's working quartet of the time. Recorded six months after Scofield cut his first CD release for Blue Note, Time on My Hands, with Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and Lovano, this band wouldn't last long with this personnel before settling into its own with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Bill Stewart. Still, while that quartet would go on to forge a stronger group identity; Cox and Reilly are absolutely in the pocket, with Cox being especially notable for his warm tone, comfortable groove and ability to handle everything from the straightforward to the more experimental.

The quartet play a hard-swinging version of "Wabash III, from Time on My Hands, followed by three tunes that would end up on Scofield's next CD release, Meant to Be — the title track and "Keep Me in Mind being more relaxed affairs; and "Big Fan demonstrating strong roots in Ornette Coleman with a compelling head that opens up into a more free-inspired, but still rhythmically-centered solo segment. It's clear, by virtue of his rich interplay with Lovano, that Scofield had found a strong foil for his own broadly-reaching sensibilities; Lovano would continue to record and tour with Scofield for another three years, until his own solo career became more all-encompassing. The quartet segment finishes with the down-and-funky "Cissy Strut, from Scofield's last release for Gramavision, the appropriately-titled Flat Out.

While the DVD gives the impression that each grouping recorded more than the handful of tunes released, and one can always bemoan the fact that, with the extended capacity of the DVD, no additional tracks were released. But as short as it is, Live 3 Ways is a fine look at a relatively early stage of Scofield's emergence as an artist of major significance. While he had been recording since the mid-'70s, it was only with his mid-'80s stint with Miles Davis, and a string of subsequent mid-to-late '80s albums for Gramavision, that he began to receive the wider attention he deserved. And with his move to Blue Note in '89, he reconciled his fusion and bebop roots with a style more elastic than that of his late '80s funk band with bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Dennis Chambers. Live 3 Ways captures Scofield at this nexus point, with a style that seamlessly marries all his disparate influences into a fluid, cogent style that continues to evolve to this day.

Visit John Scofield on the web.

Personnel: John Scofield (guitar), with:
Trio: Don Pullen (organ), Marvin "Smitty Smith (drums) Duo: Dr. John (piano) Quartet: Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone), Anthony Cox (bass), John Reilly (drums)

Track Listing: Trio: Opening Credits/Lick of the Century; Bolivar Blues; Charlie Chan Duo: Please Send Me Someone to Love; My Babe Quartet: Wabash III; Meant to Be; Big Fan; Keep Me in Mind; Cissy Strut

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