Guitarist John Scofield is an unassuming chap, seemingly at ease with himself and most things around him. He's ever congenial. Clever and well-grounded. Catch him wearing spectacles, and his look is professorial.
But don't, for a minute, think Scofield isn't serious about music. The status he's achieved in the music world was accomplished with hard work, listening to the people and sounds around him, absorbing many influences, then putting it forththrough his instrument and through compositionin a way that is honest and forthright. He appeals to musicians and music aficionados. And he's done it in a consistent fashion over the years.
It's hard to find people who don't dig Scofield, even if they aren't into the guitar.
The litany of people with whom Sco, to which he is often referred, has been associated with is a clear indication of his worth as a musician: Miles Davis, Billy Cobham, Joe Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Jim Hall, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Dave Holland and more. He's been on important albums and created them. This Meets That (Emarcy, 2007) is one of his finest. In it, Scofield, along with longtime compatriots Steve Swallow (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums), touch on a variety of influences and manage to put forth music that is loose and sometimes groove-based, with a jam-like ambiance, yet is cohesive, swinging and cerebraloften all at once. With horn arraignments, no less.
"It came out all of the things that I do, on one CD, but not all mixed upone kind of music for the first time, in a way, says Scofield.
He's looking forward to working that music as the group tours. But he's already looking ahead.
"I would like to make a blues record, whatever that means, he says, speculating about later in 2008. "I'm feeling that. A blues/gospel record, taking that music and seeing where we can go with it.
He states it matter-of-factly, almost as if maybe he will and maybe he won't. But you can probably count on it. And look for him to tear it up. Scofield was brought up on that music. "The real blues and gospel guys swing like crazy in their own way. It remains to be seen how we can do it.
In the meantime, the coming year will see his trio and horns playing This Meets That material. The year could also include more dates with Trio Beyond, the magnificent group that pairs him with DeJohnette and Larry Goldings on organ, and perhaps more things with Medeski, Martin and Wood.
But the focus for now is the new recording, which has gained critical acclaim and rightly so. It has a great sound, the product of outstanding musicians who have played together over the years, forming a personal style, a familial vocabulary.
"I love these guys, says Scofield of the trio that has played together off and on since the 1990s. (The trio released EnRoute on Verve in 2004). "Each one of them is a special individual musician. Their sound is so individual. Steve, there's nobody like him in the world. Sometimes Steve can't make a gig and my wife will say, 'Can't you get another electric bassist to do it?' I say, 'Yeah, but there is no other electric bassist that I've heard of that can approach that.' It's his own world. I've played with Bill Stewart since 1979. I've played with a lot of the greatest jazz drummers and he's right at that level. I don't think anyone is playing better jazz music on the drums than Bill Stewart.
"It kind of evolved, says Sco of This Meets That. "I've been doing other projects that were really electric projects. Groove-only projects. The trio always kept playing through the '90s, even though we weren't recording. From the mid-'90s until now, we've kind of developed a repertoire, some of which is on this record. Our version of groove tunes. It's loose and jazzy in a way that electric funk-based jazz is not. I'm really proud that we came up with a way to incorporate that shit into our jazz thing.
"The horn thing is a nice icing on the cake.
The arrangements, and most of the tunes on the new recording, are Scofield's, except for "Behind Closed Doors, an old country tune; "I Can't Get No Satisfaction, of Rolling Stones fame; and a rocking warhorse, "House of the Rising Sun. Much of the material developed as part of the trio's repertoire over the last five years, with the guitarist penning "The Low Road, "Strangeness in the Night and "Down D more recently.
"The Low Road starts out like it might come from the psychedelic era, with Scofield's guitar crying, but it quickly settles into a sweet groove where the guitar plays jazz, swing and beyond over a liquid beat provided by his mates. The form is open and yet the three are so tight. It's a tune that might become a popular one for other bands to pick up and stretch out on. Scofield glides effortlessly over the music and the horns after they slide in. Its subtle toe-tapping changes are delectable. "Strangeness in the Night also has the feel that you might hear if picked up by others looking for a modern funkiness, with time-tested swing. Good time music, but heady nonetheless. His reworkings of the cover tunes are all worthy, creating a new groove and a new interest. On "Trio Blues you can see the guys in a club, on the stand, swinging and playing off each other. Ballsy. The disk is entirely digestible.
It's a superb trio disk, encapsulating the different feels the group can achieve in a manner that is personal and versatile. Yet there's so much more to what Scofield does and what he's willing to try, based on his upbringingborn in Ohio, raised in Connecticut and listening to music of the 1960s, when jazz was hard to find, but blues-based rock was plentiful. It left him with an open mind for music. Scofield's in a place now, as far as his stature, that when sees a direction that interests him, he can take it. And he's in a place as a musician that whatever that decision is, it will sound good and be valid.
"I don't choose. It's what sort of happens. Things fall into place for one project or another, he says matter-of-factly. "I mix it up. After I've done a funky kind of record with the Uberjam Bandthat's what we did a couple years ago. That was my band and we did a couple CDs. Then I feel like I want to do some more stuff with the trio, whatever that music is. Or Trio Beyond. And then the MMW thing just comes up. One project, for lack of a better word, is more straight-ahead, and another one, for lack of a better word again, is funkier. It goes back and forth. It's just that you're looking for something a little bit different than what you did the last time. I just keep going these different ways. I don't have a master plan at all.