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John Scofield: New Morning - The Paris Concert


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New Morning: The Paris Concert

There once was a time when it was nearly impossible to keep up with your favorite artist because, back in the pre-internet Stone Age, you had to rely on less regular media and word of mouth. Nowadays, between internet and social media, it's become easy to know what that artist is up to, because if he burps, you can read about it somewhere. A great thing, in principle, but the problem we have now is that there's so much information to assimilate on a second-by- second basis, that we still find it impossible to keep up. Artists often tour with groups that never see the light of day on commercial CD; just check the Tour Page for guitarist John Scofield, and it's clear that, even if you've picked up each and every release he's put out since 1977's John Scofield (Venus), there are a whole lot of groups that you've never heard of, much less heard.

Fortunately, the good folks at Germany's Inakustic—responsible for a fine series of live DVDs recorded at New Morning—were in-house at the heralded Parisian club when Scofield was on tour with a quartet of players that included one old friend (drummer Bill Stewart), one new friend (bassist Ben Street) and one ultra-new friend (pianist Michael Eckroth, fresh out of school and visiting Paris for the first time). Recorded in High Definition, New Morning: The Paris Concert captures Scofield during one of his "jazz" tours, with his New Jazz Quartet—meaning this ain't the jam band groove of Überjam (Verve, 2002), the N'awlins gospel of Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009) or the soul-drenched tribute of That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (Verve, 2005)—fine albums all, but if those discs skirt around it, this performance is absolutely in the jazz tradition.

New Morning is two-plus hours (including the bonus "Soundcheck Sketches," where Scofield is interviewed over footage from the group's sound check) of material culled from three of his earlier records, a bunch of new music, and a few standards—including one, "I Want to Talk About You," that foreshadows Scofield's A Moment's Peace (Emarcy), released in Europe in the spring of 2011, and in North America, the fall of the same year.

The quartet is in tremendous form. Stewart, who dates back to the early 1990s with Scofield and tremendous modern mainstream records like Meant to Be (Blue Note, 1991), has always been a drummer of a distinctly melodic bent; here, he's swinging as hard as ever on the quartet's incendiary version of Charlie Parker's "Steeplechase," and takes a solo of such focused construction that the form remains crystal clear underneath. Swing is also the key on "Hive," a Scofield original first heard on Works for Me (Verve, 2000), though the chart is knottier, with a mindblowing start/stop ending. While he's come a long, long way since his early recordings, Scofield proves here, and throughout the performance, that he's still capable of the same unbridled fire and youthful unpredictability that made Live (Enja, 1977) and Rough House (Enja, 1978) such a potent combination punch back in the day.

Street is an in-demand bassist who's worked with a slew of important guitarists, from Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder to up-and-comers like Lage Lund and Steve Cardenas. If there's anything specific a bassist needs to work with contemporary guitarists that experiment tonally as much as they do melodically or harmonically, then Street certainly demonstrates it on "Lost Found & Inbetween," one of a handful of compositions either new or, at least, newly recorded, from the guitarist's pen. A "changes, no time" piece that begins with Scofield alone—but, augmented with his array of effects pedals, sounding more like two guitarists— Streets' accompaniment, when the ascending pattern that provides the song its axis is rallied, combines brief suggestions of time with Stewart but, more importantly, a driving undercurrent over which Scofield builds an oblique solo, before giving way to Eckroth, who proves just how much can be made of the sketchiest of musical directions.

Scofield is, of course, the focal point during a set that, "Lost Found & Inbetween" aside, leans more decidedly to an acoustic, mainstream space, though the guitarist's characteristically overdriven tone and penchant for bluesy bends and tasteful vibrato—even as he takes creates delicious tension and release by moving in, out and around the tonal center—gives it a thoroughly contemporary veneer. But the surprise of the set is Eckroth, culled from Scofield's ensemble class at New York University; if his performance here is any indication, he's a player with a bright future. He waxes modal on Scofield's "Slinky," switching from organ to piano for a solo that channels McCoy Tyner via Mulgrew Miller, and matches Scofield note-for-note on the guitarist's altered blues, "Relaxin' at Camarillo" and harder-grooving title track from Groove Elation! (Blue Note, 1995).

The multi-camera shoot reveals plenty for students of any of this group's talented players, and avoids the split-second camera cuts that make some of today's videos a bit of a disruptive experience. If edits are supposed to create a flow, a sense of visual narrative over the stories being told musically, then New Morning: The Paris Concert successfully conveys the energy of being there with a shoot that makes watching it over and over again more than possible; it makes it absolutely essential.

Tracks: Ten Taken; Woody 'N' You; Slinky; My Foolish Heart; Steeplechase; Hive; Lost Found & Inbetween; Chirikawa; Relaxin' At Camarillo; I Want to Talk About You; Groove Elation; The Guiness Spot. Bonus Feature: Soundtrack Sketches.

Personnel: John Scofield: guitar; Michael Eckroth: piano, organ; Ben Street: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

Running Time: 135 minutes. Bonus Feature: Soundtrack Sketches

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