John Scofield's "I'll Fly Away" NPR's song of the day

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Monday May 11, 2009

Guitarist John Scofield has given birth to a new musical genre: country-gospel-jazz. (Maybe call it “co-go-ja” for short?) As proof, just listen to his reinvention of the 1929 Christian classic “I’ll Fly Away.” He and his bandmates start out with a chugging country backdrop straight from the Grand Ole Opry, but his interpretation of the melody is pure jazz. The mellow flavor of Wes Montgomery lives on in Scofield’s gentle, effortless runs, which soar, dip and then rise again like the song’s heavenbound protagonist.

Two-thirds of the way through, bandmate Jon Cleary chimes in to sing the familiar tale of leaving “prison walls” on a flight to “God’s celestial shore.” Cleary is a British vocalist and pianist who sounds more like an old-time New Orleans church musician than a U.K. gent. His warm yet weary voice complements but never overwhelms Scofield’s virtuosity. Together, they prove that Scofield wasn’t playing around when he called his new CD Piety Street.