John Scofield has been keeping good company: The legendary guitarist followed up his Grammy-nominated turn with the super group Trio Beyond by recording with Medeski, Martin & Wood and touring with Phil Lesh & Friends. Even Scofield's Ray Charles tribute That's What I Say (Verve, 2005) was an all-star bash featuring Mavis Staples and Dr. John. With This Meets That, Scofield has the spotlight all to himself, and the results are very good.
Although Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart are back as Scofield's rhythm section, the former Miles Davis sideman isn't retreating into a comfort zone. This Meets That is his Emarcy debut after a ten-year relationship with Verve, and other than a one-song cameo by Bill Frisell, Scofield has nothing to fall back on but his own prodigious talents. Along with the usual riveting guitar solos, Scofield arranged all the charts for the four-man horn section that augments most of the disc.
Scofield takes no prisoners as his ex tempore, in-the-clear opening on "The Low Road resolves into a crunchy, funky groove. The horns establish themselves here as Scofield's Greek chorus, adding color and drama to the piece's urban vibe. Roger Rosenberg plays growling baritone sax under the guitarist's comping, while Stewart unleashes the first of several explosive solos. The horns extend the scope of several numbers, for good or ill. Their best performance comes on "Heck of a Job, Scofield's bitter, Second Line-flavored shot at the government's response to Katrina, while making Scofield's take on the Rolling Stones classic "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction way too slick.
Scofield doesn't need to keep the pedal to the metal to get a response. "Down D pulls the pace back into an easy, loping meter, prefaced by another superb Scofield solo trip laced with backward masking. "Memorette is a pastoral 6/4 jazz tune that comes from the mellow side of Wes Montgomery, and Charlie Rich's love song "Behind Closed Doors gets the romantic treatment Frisell has been giving to pieces of Americana for years. This isn't where Frisell comes in, though, instead bringing outstanding tremolo guitar to a dizzying cover of "House of the Rising Sun.
Stewart's work more than holds up, even when compared to Scofield's all-star compatriots Jack DeJohnette and Billy Martin; Stewart's solos on "Low Road and the free-form "Pretty Out are particularly tasty. Still, Frisell's contribution shows Scofield could have benefited from a traditional second soloist on the entire disc. While Swallow's foundations are both consistent and satisfying, his fuzz-toned solos add very little.
Despite its flaws, This Meets That puts Scofield at center stage, a place he doesn't need to share. After thirty years, he still earns the spotlight with a bag full of chops and a snarling sound that would intimidate a Rottweiler. While his recent collaborations are terrific, to be sure, John Scofield deserves our full appreciation, and he can only get that on his own.
The Low Road; Down D; Strangeness in the Night; Heck of a Job;
Behind Closed Doors; House of the Rising Sun; Shoe Dog; Memorette;
Trio Blues; Pretty Out; I Can't Get No Satisfaction.
John Scofield: guitar; Steve Swallow: bass; Bill Stewart: drums; Roger
Rosenberg: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Lawrence Feldman:
tenor saxophone, flutes; Jim Pugh: trombone; John Swana: trumpet,
flugelhorn; Bill Frisell: tremolo guitar (6).
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