Feel the jazz
John Scofield leads his young, funky, experimental band into Sierra Nevada’s Big Room
My husband told me, after hearing some of jazz guitarist John Scofield’s new CD, Up All Night (Verve, 2003), that it sounded like Scofield had done some acid and gone to a rave since we saw him play in Santa Cruz a couple of years ago. When I told this to Scofield during my recent phone interview with him at his New York home, he just laughed.
Scofield’s current touring band, The John Scofield Band, is indeed a wild, funky little unit. Some people refer to it as a jam band, a term that usually brings to mind such groups as The Grateful Dead, Phish or The String Cheese Incident. Some folks think that what Scofield does with his band—consisting of Scofield on electric guitar and guitar samples; Avi Bortnick on rhythm guitar, samples and loops; Andy Hess on bass; and Adam Deitch on drums—isn’t, you know, real jazz.
When I suggested to Scofield that some jazz purists might not appreciate what he does with this young band, he said, “I’m a classic jazz purist. I understand that feeling.” But with this band he’s having a ball “playing funk … with a jazz mindset [read: improvisation is a major component] and the tools of 2004,” such as samplers.
Scofield uses his guitar sampler freely on Up All Night, playing a line into it and then maybe having it come out backwards and then playing another line over the top of it. The CD was recorded mostly in “real time,” with very little overdubbing, so the live show pretty much sounds like the recording, i.e., very cool, very urban, very bad-ass. Which, as Scofield pointed out, might be “very confusing for some people who would like [pianist] Oscar Peterson and not Up All Night.”
These days Scofield’s got plenty of arrows in his quiver, some more straight-ahead than others, like his work with Scolohofo (see the CD Oh! from January of this year with band mates Dave Holland, Al Foster and Joe Lovano) or his upcoming November European tour with long-time collaborator bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart.
That said, his band mates on this current project are perfect for him, a man who professes to love both rock and jazz and the new territory created where they meet. Scofield has described Bortnick as a “rhythm guitar master” and an “electro-magician” when it comes to loops and samples. Hess, playing his funky old ‘60s Fender P-bass, is the new guy who replaced ex-Chicoan Jesse Murphy, who wanted to stop touring and stay in New York City to work on his own projects. Hess comes to Scofield’s band from playing with rebel rockers The Black Crowes and singer Joan Osborne, while Deitch provides the solid, driving, versatile beat beneath it all.
Expect to hear a lot of stuff from Up All Night and some from Überjam, the Scofield band’s pre-Hess CD, featuring Murphy on bass. Rock-funk-jazz-Afrobeat, it’s all fair game, so don’t go to Sco’s show hoping for anything approaching straight-ahead, “regular” jazz or you might be disappointed. Go with an open mind and/or the desire to party all night, and you’ll be fine, or maybe even in some kind of groove heaven.
Every single song—from the opening track “Philiopiety” ("devotion to love"? “love’s devotion"?) to the closing “Every Night Is Ladies’ Night"—on Up All Night digs in with its insistent groove running beneath an ever-shifting soundscape cruising over the top of it. Think city late at night, you’re in the club dancing or you’re sitting in some restaurant alone staring at the blur of traffic while you pick at your pie and coffee. Or, you’re making love in a fifth-floor apartment in the light of the blinking neon outside. It’s all Sco: infectious and super soulful. It’s the soundtrack you want to hear while you’re out there movin’ your groove thang.
Seriously, folks, if you want to feel the love, get on down at the Big Room on the 24th.