John Scofield shows blues background

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Thursday December 16, 2010

from Times Union

Jazz guitar great John Scofield shows blues background

Among the most highly regarded of today’s jazz guitarists, John Scofield doesn’t think that much about styles and genres. He’s a guitar player, and a great one. As such, he’s had the chance to perform and record with many of his jazz heroes, like Joe Henderson, Gerry Mulligan and Herbie Hancock.

But Scofield, 58, came out of the blues. A stint in the 1980s with Miles Davis thrust him into the public eye, but that band was playing music with strong funk, rock and pop overtones. He can also be found playing groove-oriented music, or doing the jam-band thing with bands like Medeski, Martin and Wood. He even did a Ray Charles tribute album (“That’s What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles,” Verve, 2005).

He just loves music and knows how to put his well-known, personal guitar style into any setting.

His latest recording, released in late August, is “54” (Emarcy), recorded in the Netherlands with the Metropole Orchestra, that puts the guitarist as a soloist over a 54-piece orchestra of brass, woodwinds and strings. Arrangements are by Vince Mendoza, the multiple Grammy winner who has worked with people like trumpeter Randy Brecker, the late keyboardist Joe Zawinul and singers Joni Mitchell and Bjork.

However, when the John Scofield quartet takes the stage at the Port of Albany’s Riverfront Jazz Festival (about 6:15 p.m.), jazz will be the order of the day, as will his dazzling chops and biting sound and angular improvisations.

“We’ll be playing some bebop, some (jazz) standards, some originals from my past albums. It’ll be pretty much jazz,” said Scofield recently from his New York City home, on a brief break from a busy year of touring with a variety of groups — his own and others. “Maybe some jazz groove tunes. Maybe some new ones.”

The quartet consists of Michael Eckroth, a relatively new discovery of Scofield’s, on piano; Ben Street on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Street and Wilson also lead their own bands. Wilson, in particular, shares Scofield’s wide-ranging tastes, having played straight-ahead jazz with the masters, free jazz with the likes of Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman, and even merged his own quartet with a string quartet at the CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival last month.

No matter what the setting, Scofield’s immediately identifiable sound demands attention. It comes out of blues artists like Freddie, Albert and B.B. King, and jazz greats like Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Pat Martino. “I also listened to horn players a lot,” he said. “I would pick up things from that and bring it to the guitar. … Really it was when I realized I couldn’t play like (his idols), that I just played what I knew and what I had in me, to make the music sound good and be myself at the same time.”

Now, “when I do funk gigs, I bring more jazz to it than others do. When I play jazz, I think I bring a more funk and blues thing than most. When I play groove music, all those elements are there.”

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