John Scofield: Swallow Tales

In brief:
"Swallow Tales doesn't add anything new to the Scofield library (too much to expect given the major innovations of the 70s and 80s) ... Still, it's worth a spin - the key characteristics of Scofield's voice aren't quieted and the essence shines through the veiled sound"

Scofield’s debut on ECM (he has appeared as sideman on the label, notably in Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires) may remind of the somewhat seminal (in being some of the earliest Scofield) sets on Enja of 1981. There Scofield appeared with Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum, producing mostly swinging, if low-key jazz reminiscent of Jim Hall, an influence Scofield had long acknowledged.

The sound on this set of Swallow tunes (perhaps partly an effect of the distancing that tends to characterise ECM production) remains relatively restrained but the music often swings openly in triplet style – not something often found on ECM issues, especially in latter days. There’s also, as ever in Scofield’s playing, and uncommon on ECM, strong blues accents, especially in the long codas, such as those to She Was Young and Eiderdown.


In the same passages Scofield also essays a kind of muscularity not typical of the label. That kind of playing illustrates what one earlier Scofield observer memorably referred to as Scofield’s tendency to “knock over the metaphorical beer bottle” and one that has well defined his style, in macro and micro terms – macro in essaying styles from chamber to stadium jazz-rock and micro on the bandstand, subverting harmony and idiom within pieces.

There isn’t however anything here that approaches the terrific bar-room brawl of Shinola, the title track of one of those Enja sets, which produces a delightfully ribald shock in a set that wouldn’t otherwise disturb the maiden aunt.

Swallow Tales doesn’t add anything new to the Scofield library (too much to expect given the guitarist’s epochal innovations of the 70s and 80s) and some may anyway prefer the more explicit player of the 1978 Enja Rough House with the torrential Hal Galper or the still new fusion of Still Warm. Still, it’s worth a spin – the key characteristics of Scofield’s voice aren’t quieted and the essence shines through the veiled sound.

She Was Young; Falling Grace; Portsmouth Figurations; Awful Coffee; Eiderdown; Hullo Bolinas; Away; In F; Radio (53.16)
Scofield (elg); Steve Swallow (elb); Bill Stewart (d). NYC, March 2019.
ECM 083 6036

Latest audio reviews


More from this author


Jazz Journal articles by month


Benny Carter: Four Classic Albums, Second Set

This splendid anthology of Carter recordings – the second from Avid – is equal to if not better than the first. Curiously, however, the...

Still Clinging To The Wreckage 06/20, part 2

Bill Harris was born in Philadelphia on 28 October 1918, learning to play trumpet, tenor saxophone and piano before he eventually gave them all...

Dave Liebman: one of the original eclectics

“There was a very high level of musicians involved. It doesn’t get much better,” enthuses veteran soprano and tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman of his...

Sophisticated Giant – The Life And Legacy Of Dexter Gordon

We are fortunate indeed in that Maxine Gordon is such an accomplished writer (except for the fact that everyone that Dexter ever meets seems...


Director James Erskine's valuable documentary intertwines Holiday's story with that of Linda Kuehl, a literary journalist who in 1970 began a biography of her....

JJ 05/80: Egberto Gismonti – Solo

Egberto is a good guitarist, a fairly respectable pianist, is beautifully recorded in both roles, but produces not a note of jazz here. Though...