During the course of his storied career, guitarist/composer John Scofield has never shown much of of a predilection to repeat himself. Rather, he navigates through projects as diverse as trio outings, experiments with horns, collections of ballads and collaborations with the likes of Gov't Mule and the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh in a such a way that, when he completes a cyle of activity, he's grown discernibly as an artist.
Which is why the title of Past Present so suits Sco's concept of return to a lineup similar to one he fronted in the early Nineties. Apart from the frontman's evolution as an instrumentalist, writer and recording artist, the distinguishing factor here is the presence of bassist Larry Grenadier, whose work with pianist Brad Mehldau
and guitarist Pat Metheny
, among many others, reaffirms an appetite for adventure similar to the bandleader's. Both establish an uncanny bond with the musicians who appeared on the aforementioned records, saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Bill Stewart.
As evinced by his playing on the opener, "Slinky," Grenadier has an abiding gift for understatement he shares with Scofield. The guitarist always relishes immersing himself within the interactions of any group he's playing withnot just Medeski Martin and Woodso the spotlights he affords Lovano, like the one on "Season Creep," is no surprise. In fact, it's John Scofield's modesty and humility, a tone in place even as he acted as producer, that elevates not just the playing of those around him, but his own as well.
And pithily as he soloscompletely in line with the austere graphics of Past Present
, including the somber cover portraithe invariably whets the appetite for more by the time he's finished, as is the case with "Enjoy the Future!" And in doing so, during, for instance, "Museum," he deftly interweaves the staccato attack of a blues guitarist and the fluid approach of a pure jazz player. It's well-nigh impossible to mistake John Scofield for any other active guitarist.
Scofield also distinguishes himself as a composer here, writing all nine tunes, including the title track; apart from the delicious mix Mark Wilder preserved in his mastering, the songwriter's melodies tickle the ear to compel repeated playing on their own terms, but, as with "Hangover," also offer inspiration for all four of these players to improvise and elicit additional nuance from the changes.
Within such intervals throughout "Mr. Puffy," for instance, neither Grenadier or Stewart remain merely support players; rather, as individuals and partners in the rhythm section, they imprint their personalities on material such as "Chap Dance," by weaving their own instrumental patterns inside, outside and around the melody. It's a measure of the solidarity of this quartet that, if Past Present
were used in a blindfold test, the listener might be hard pressed to determine who the top-billed player actually is, the highest compliment to be paid to the genuinely selfless, joyful musician that is John Scofield.