JJ 06/93: John Scofield Quartet – What We Do

Thirty years ago, Mark Gilbert heard the guitarist mixing bebop, blues, Ornette-styled writing and a wide, if ironic embrace of American pop. First published in Jazz Journal June 1993


It’s no surprise to find that bebop, the blues, the various styles of Ornette Coleman, and a wide, if ironic embrace of American popular music inspire Scofield’s fourth session for Blue Note. However, it is refreshing to discover in the tunes and the playing an intensity and focus missing from some of his post-Miles showings.

As usual, all the tunes are Sco­field’s, and he has written some impressive themes. All carry his stamp, although some wear their influences more prominently than others. For example, What They Did is a bop head based on Rhythm changes and phrased like Anthropology, and Why Nogales? (an anagram?) is the sort of asym­metric, Caribbean-flavoured mel­ody associated with Ornette Coleman.

Other themes resist such easy categorisation, beyond being clearly Scofieldian. A case in point is Camp Out, an agitated, disquieting evocation of some­thing sinister at summer camp, based on, and comprehensively subverting, the opening strain of Allan Sherman’s Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. Another is the now whispering, now strident Little Walk. This, and other tunes here, are rich with the abrupt harmonic shifts and bare, resonating dis­sonances which have come to characterise Scofield’s later work.

Scofield and Lovano’s soloing, even over unusual or abstract backgrounds, seems better directed and controlled than of late. Scofield, ever sinewy, prowls on the ballads and becomes inflamed when the pace is up. His additions to the improvising vocabulary are now well-estab­lished, but his lines remain dis­tinctive and intriguing.

Lovano adapts to match his surroundings; thus the feathery, pirouetting combination of Coltrane and others he affects here stands in sharp contrast to his downhome playing on, say, the recent Lou Rawls blues album. Irwin, dry and thrumming, sounds more like earlier Sco bassist Charlie Haden than did previous incumbent Anthony Cox, and Bill Stewart provides an animated, provoca­tive undertow.

If, as is said, this is to be Sco­field’s last recording in this format for a while, it’s a strong set-closer.

Little Walk; Camp Out; Big Sky; Easy For You; Call 911; Imaginary Time; Say The Word; Why Nogales?; What They Did (63.08)
Scofield (elg); Joe Lovano (ts); Dennis Irwin (b); Bill Stewart (d). New York, May 1992.
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