JJ 02/89: John Scofield – Pick Hits & Loud Jazz

First published Jazz Journal, February 1989

347

This pair sit together fairly comfortably, having been recorded within three months of each other. Some differences might be expected, since Loud Jazz was a new studio album and Pick Hits was a live recording reprising material from Scofield’s first three fusion albums – Electric Outlet, Still Warm and Blue Matter. But in fact Loud Jazz signals little departure from the powerful and individualist groove that the guitarist began to cut in early 1984. If anything has changed, Sco as soloist has moved closer to the electric blues guitar tradition and further from bop and after.

In typical style, it was the Japanese who saw fit to capture the latest Scofield quartet live, and it’s good to have a warts-and-all record of the band in concert. Another bonus is the extended playing time: There are only nine pieces here, but each is given a thorough examination. Trim, for example, lasts for over 16 minutes – enough for an LP side in some circles. Trim also illustrates the characteristic charm of live recording: Scofield appears to begin his solo underwater – or at least that’s the impression conveyed by what sounds like a maladjusted chorus pedal. These kind of glitzes serve to reinforce the sense of spontaneity in live performance.

A less pleasing aspect of this non-studio recording is the poor balance at certain times, most notably on Pick Hits, where the all-important bass figure is not easily recognisable. The funky percussive effect is there, but pitch and tone are unclear.

This live collection also brings us a reading of Scofield’s favourite acapella encore, Georgia. He inflects the old standard with signature modern harmony and substitution and attaches a customary coda which mixes gospel style chording with typically angular off-the-wall improvisation. However, this is not by any means as intense a rendition as that heard at Bracknell festival in 1986.

Loud Jazz (named after daughter Jean’s appellation of dad’s music) features a bunch of new compositions – new at least in title. The content is familiar, if perhaps a touch more downhome than previously. The rhythms and timbres produced by the band have been a staple in jazz, funk and rock for years, and likewise some of the harmonic and melodic vocabulary, but all is coloured by Scofield’s highly personal approach to the latter pair. This is now well-established, and Loud Jazz does nothing to upset the status quo. The material ranges from the high velocity funk of Did It through the virtual heavy metal of Wabash (with its rock style false harmonics) and the sweet balladry of True Love to the stealthy menace of Spy Vs Spy, which is from the same mould as the 1977 Gray And Visceral (recorded that year for Enja).

The concept employed on these two issues is now over four years old, and fine as it is, Scofield is repeating himself, both as writer and soloist. If he weren’t heard playing so frequently in other idioms elsewhere (he must be the most recorded sideman guitarist of the eighties) I would suggest an album of a more acoustic nature. John Scofield with strings?
Mark Gilbert

PICK HITS
Picks And Pans; Pick Hits; Heaven Hill; Protocol; Blue Matter; Thanks Again; Trim; Georgia On My Mind; Make Me (73.32)
Scofield (g); Dennis Chambers (d); Gary Grainger (b); Robert Aries (kyb). Recorded Hitomi Memorial Hall, Tokyo, October 7, 1987.
(Gramavision 18 8805-2)
LOUD JAZZ
Tell You What; Dance Me Home; Signature Of Venus; Dirty Rice; Did It; Wabash; Loud Jazz; Otay; True Love; I Get The Picture; Spy Vs. Spy (57.10)
Personnel as above, plus George Duke (kyb) and Don Alias (pc). Recorded NYC, December 1987.
(Gramavision 18-8801-2)