John Scofield Trio and the ScoHorns
The Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts
Hanover, New Hampshire
October 6th, 2007
John Scofield radiates such infectious joy when he plays, it's well nigh impossible not to share it. Whether it's on stage with MMW, Phil Lesh or fronting a group of his own, as he did October 6th at Dartmoth College, the venerable guitarist draws in his co-musicians no less than his audience.
It's not necessarily an easy task but Scofield manages to make it seem effortless much like his approach to playing his instrument. Especially in such a formal, borderline antiseptic setting as Spaulding Auditorium on the Dartmouth College campusbeautiful to be sure and with splendid acousticsthe challenge remains to bond with the audience as well as the band. This wet autumn night in New Hampshire, Sco managed to help generate a cozy enough atmosphere that you'd almost (but not quite) feel like you were in a club.
It wasn't a slam-dunk by any meansfor the leader or the band. On the third date of their tour supporting the new CD, This Meets That, there was a somewhat tentative approach evident on the part of the horn section, offset in part by the flourishes of trumpeter Phil Grenadier that signaled climaxes and crescendos. Arrangements had a more conventional urban air than the decidedly fresh and spacious orchestral ambience of the studio recording, but you could hear the same nuances by set's end, especially on "Strangeness in the Night.
At that juncture, the capacity crowd, boisterous at points and polite to a fault (though their appreciative applause of solos occasionally muffled the group's transitions), had seen and heard an earnest assemblage of skilled players taken through their paces by a frontman who knew where he wanted to go and was patient enough to get there, whatever it took.
Scofield's performance alone was worth seeing. The effortless way he moves from rhythm parts to solos and back to chords as on his cover of "Behind Closed Doors is the sign of a man who loves to play the guitar. And then there's the more mysterious way in which he fuses sweet glistening melody with the musky grit of funk: through a career ranging from Miles Davis to Billy Cobham to going it alone as a solo act followed by a foray into the jamband scene, Scofield has come to distinguish himself on guitar in versatile but no uncertain terms.
But Scofield eschews the personal glory: he loves to interact with other musicians. Watching him alternately signal, command and gesture the gradually coalescing musicians on stage was only a little less fascinating than seeing the reactions of his stellar cast. Bassist Larry Grenadier, for one, was much more animated in his body language and playing than on the Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau tour. Likewise drummer Bill Stewart who, while he might've been guilty of overplaying at points, engaged in some spirited call and response with Scofield near mid-set that was as much fun to observe as it must've been to participate in.
The banter was all the more welcome since Scofield and crew paid less attention to spontaneous interplay than the mastery of the arrangements. With a full tour under their collective belt, this band will no doubt bring more authority as well as more improvisation to this same music, so a live recording would no doubt be revelatorya statement of its own, quite separate from the studio work.
Yet even this deep into the string of performances, the band clearly marveled at each other's playing: more than the smiling observers all around the hall, they could appreciate how far they'd come on their learning curve. The horn section, which was set up stage left (besides Grenadier on trumpet sat Eddie Salkin on saxophones and flute and Frank Vacin on sax and clarinet), might've seemed static if not for their grins of approval for each other's moments in the spotlight, not to mention every one of Grenadier's solo turns and, of course, the precise emotive picking of Scofield. The audience maintained rapt attention, their repeated, robust acclamations signaling they were on the wavelength of the performers, lustily enjoying, moreover, Scofield's facetious introduction of The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction as an original of his!