John Scofield: Past Present | Album Review
Seems everyone in the jazz world these days is busting genres, mixing styles and crossing boundaries, but here is a record from the deep waters at the centre of the jazz river: strong, singable melodies in regular time signatures, played by a quartet of masterful New York improvisers, that groove like f**k and will restore your faith in, you know, jazz.
John Scofield is one of the defining guitarists of contemporary jazz, a generous-minded musician with an instantly recognisable sound and a flair for putting groups of like-minded players together. Back in the early 1990s, with saxophonist Joe Lovano, he released a string of albums on the Blue Note label – Time on My Hands (1990), Meant to Be (1991) and What We Do (1993) – which seemed to capture something that had been lost in jazz. It wasn’t that there was anything particularly new or innovative about the music, but the playing on those records was so good, so joyous, that you couldn’t help laughing out loud.
Well, they’re back. Scofield and Lovano have a very special connection, and have played together in a variety of settings, but it is particularly in the context of an acoustic quartet – here with the very considerable talents of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart – that they are able to display their almost supernatural empathy. Lovano’s blithe melodic inventions weave in and out of Scofield’s expansive harmonies, and Grenadier and Stewart provide a solid but ever-shifting pulse that drives everything forward like a steam train.
All nine tracks are Scofield originals, and the writing is worthy of the playing: Chap Dance is an up-tempo swinger that is so catchy, you are singing the out-head on the first listening; Hangover is a pensive waltz with folky overtones; Get Proud has a jaunty, 70s-cop-show melody that sits in Lovano’s horn like Jim Rockford sits in his car: and Mr Puffy is vintage Scofield, a gentle swinger full of twists and surprises that can turn nasty at any moment.
The last time Scofield made a record like this, he burnished the image of an illustrious label fallen into disrepair. The newly resuscitated Impulse label will be hoping that Past Present does the same for their historic imprint. johnscofield.com