Critic's Pick: John Scofield, 'Past Present'

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Tuesday October 27, 2015

From Lexington Herald-Leader

Critic’s Pick: John Scofield, ‘Past Present’
By: Walter Tunis

There are probably a dozen inferences that you could take away from the title of John Scofield’s newest recording, Past Present.

It could be the return to the kind of animated jazz that the guitarist was known for before contemporary alliances with Govt. Mule, Medeski Martin & Wood and Phil Lesh introduced his music to a new generation of predominantly rock and jam audiences. There also is the matter of the band backing Scofield on Past Present, which harks back to a trio of outstanding Blue Note albums that he cut roughly 25 years ago. Finally, there is the whole sense of musical invention that cuts to the core of Past Present. Its nine tunes, all Scofield originals, might suggest a glance backward to a sound and band from years ago. But a flashback it isn’t. Past Present couldn’t sound retro if it tried.

The album makes two lasting and commanding impressions from the get-go. The first deals with the musical simpatico between Scofield and saxophonist Joe Lovano, his principal foil from the 1990s band, largely reassembled here. The two converse with remarkable fluency throughout Past Present, especially on the immensely animated Hangover, trading swing riffs and playing off each other’s bright phrasing (especially in the way Lovano’s tenor melody cracks as if he were laughing at a joke). The tune also is a blast because its catalyst is the other returnee from Scofield’s ’90s band, drummer Bill Stewart. A player of deceptive intensity, Stewart set the tune’s colorful pace with an introductory roll and remains in the rhythmic driver’s seat for much of the album.

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