JJ 07/83: John Scofield Trio – Out Like A Light

Forty years ago Mark Gilbert thought 1983 wouldn't produce a record to beat Out Like A Light's creative deconstruction. First published in Jazz Journal July 1983

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The Scofield trio’s three-night stand in Munich in 1981 has now produced two albums, the first being Shinola (reviewed JJI August 1982). This latest release features more ener­getic material than its sister, al­though, that said, Shinola’s title track easily compensates for any lyrical excess on that record.

There is nothing to match Shinola‘s intensity here – rather the energy is distributed across the tracks with the excellent Holidays getting more than its fair share. Scofield is on his best eclectic form here, producing a solo that draws on all his stylistic resources, from country to rock, blues and jazz – a joyously bittersweet mixture. Over light Latin drum figures and a steady harmony based around A major, Scofield has plenty of room to stretch out. The phrasing is considered and paced, the ideas and tone clear. He never just runs scales, and his virtuosity is a mere tool.

Last Week is introduced by an ironically clumsy but controlled drum break before the trio slips into this typically cool and swinging piece. Miss Directions shows Sco­field as a dirty player, with an edge of distortion in the bass on his chord work. This tune’s tasteful changes are laid over a big swing beat, and it features a fine Steve Swallow solo. Nussbaum’s impudent drumming is also featured in fours trading with Scofield, and builds into a martial strut at the tune’s climax. This music is not just about hard blowing though: the trio’s empathy is mag­nificent, and shifts of mood are magically dexterous. Miss Directions ends with a sudden recapitulation of the restrained theme statement and a joke false ending.

The title track is a departure by any standards, and shows that the trio knows the importance of humour, irony and probably anar­chy. The central idea here calls on the players’ listening ability as the tune’s time is tossed around the ring, creating at times an atmos­phere of precipitate incompetence. In fact the trio is taking risks and challenging itself. Each player has a chance to try his free hand, but this is not allowed to take over, and no excuses are made for real imagina­tion. Melinda is as unambiguous as Scofield can ever be, an almost straight solo rendering of the Alan Lerner tune, but coloured with typi­cal Scofield dissonances.

I cannot imagine hearing a better record this year.

Discography
Holidays; Last Week (17.26) – Miss Directions; Out Like A Light; Melinda (18.12)
John Scofield (elg); Steve Swallow (elb); Adam Nussbaum (d). Recorded at Club Vielharmonie, Munich. 14/12/81.
(Enja 4038)