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John Scofield: Uncle John's Band

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John Scofield: Uncle John's Band
Phil Lesh, Grateful Dead's bassist for over 30 years, claimed their basic inspiration came from the musical unions he saw in the Miles Davis Quartet along with the John Coltrane Quartet from the early 1960s. John Scofield and Lesh have played together on many occasions. So perhaps it is no surprise that the Grateful Dead anthem, "Uncle John's Band," written by guitarist Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, originally released on their album, Workingman's Dead (Warner Bros. 1970), should serve as the title track on Scofield's third release on the ECM label. This follows Swallow Tales (2019), dedicated to the music of frequent collaborator Steve Swallow and the solo album, John Scofield, recorded during lockdown in 2021.

A brief looks at Scofield's back catalogue is enough to indicate that he is one of the finest exponents of the jazz guitar. He has worked with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Gerry Mulligan. Joining him on this recording is Vincente Archer. A leader in his own right, Archer is a pre-eminent bassist and has played alongside Scofield on many occasions as well as Kenny Garrett, Freddie Hubbard and Roy Haynes. Completing this outstanding trio is Scofield's long-time collaborator, drummer Bill Stewart. A co-leader of Goldings/Stewart/Bernstein, he has performed with Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker. As a trio, that makes for an impressive CV.

Schofield has gathered some interesting material for this 14-track double CD, including tracks from Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Miles Davis. They sit alongside seven original compositions and some jazz standards. Encompassing elements of folk, rock, swing and country, they serve as a platform for the invention and improvisational zest which Scofield and his team bring.

The album starts with a dazzling version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" that seems to initially follow the version by The Byrds, picking up on faint echoes of Jim McGuinn's 12 string Rickenbacker, rather than the Dylan original. Scofield's free improvisation is engaging and accessible while Archer contributes some fine moments on the bass. Neil Young's "Old Man," taken from Harvest (Reprise, 1972), provides an ideal scaffold for Scofield and Archer to build inventive ideas. The album concludes with the title track, Scofield flirts with the melody as he weaves a free improvisation around it. Elsewhere there are two jazz standards; "Ray's Idea" has sharp trio interplay and "Stairway To The Stars" is taken at a delightful slow sway and lacks only a cocktail and a starlit night.

Of the original compositions, stand-outs include "TV Band" with its neat twist and turns around the swinging bluesy groove, the funky "Mo Green" where Scofield stretches and rocks out with a superb solo and the swinging "How Deep" which features Stewart's drum interventions and responses.

Joining the dots between jazz and a variety of musical styles, this selection of covers and originals features an entertaining mix of rock, country and swing which liberates the trio's improvisational dynamism. The album is highly accessible, the trio always make the form of the song a key component as they stretch it and set it free. Scofield sounds as distinctive and inventive as ever. Long may it continue.

Track Listing

Mr. Tambourine Man; How Deep; TV Band; Back in Time; Budo; Nothing Is Forever; Old Man; The Girlfriend Chord; Stairway to the Stars; Mo Green; Mask; Somewhere; Ray's Idea; Uncle John's Band.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Uncle John's Band | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: ECM Records


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