With a career spanning over half a century, marked by influential collaborations with jazz greats like Miles Davis and Joe Henderson as well as several dozen genre-bending leader dates, it’s all the more striking that this is in fact John Scofield’s first ever guitar-solo recording. The long wait, however, pays off, as John is able to benefit from his decades of experience and charts an intimate path through the styles and idioms he has traversed up until today. He is not entirely all on his own on this endeavour though: the guitarist enters into dialogues with himself, soloing to his own tasteful chordal and rhythmic accompaniment via loop machine.
“I think that there’s a delicateness that I have acquired from playing at home alone,” Scofield has recently said in conversation with The Boston Herald. “I am so used to playing with a slamming band […] and there’s a certain musicality to that. That went away and was replaced by this more delicate approach of pinpointing the beauty of the strings. When I play solo, I make these little guitar loops on the fly, […] and it’s almost like I’m playing with another person.”
Not uncommon for self-titled recordings, a deeper meaning can be read into choosing the album name John Scofield, as John digs deep into the past, all the way back to his roots and the heroes of his youth. The result is a balanced and thorough picture of the musician, tying together the music that shaped him and that he has subsequently continued to influence and forge himself.
“When I was a kid the guitar was the instrument of rock and roll and popular music, that’s what I was interested in,” Scofield explains. In that spirit, he effortlessly pulls Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” from a hat, giving an edgy and laid-back rendition of the hit Holly wrote six years after Scofield was born. John reaches even further back with Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” released when Scofield was just a year old, in 1952.
John’s main emphasis throughout the years, however, has remained his deep commitment to the jazz tradition, and here he grabs a number of standards off the rack and gives them unique interpretations. His comments on each song are included in the liner notes accompanying this release, where he reveals his fondness for Kenny Dorham’s take on “It Could Happen to You.” John’s own version is a swinging affair with a deft key-change halfway through. He also reminisces about his first recording date, backing up Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker on “There Will Never Be Another You” and his pass at the song proves a nimble and compact adventure. An especially minimalist take on the Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow-penned “My Old Flame” follows – John turns off the loop machine for this one.
The guitarist has filled a fair share of albums with his own writing – its tuneful qualities and inviting singability having the same timeless character as jazz standards. “I never think about ideas when I write music,” John reflects. “Instrumental music exists in a different part of your brain, it’s not about an idea that can be described with language or visually. Music exists in its own place.”
His compositions are among the highlights of this set: Scofield renders “Honest I Do,” which he originally wrote and recorded in 1991, into a soulful ballad, explored with experimental guitar tones. “Mrs. Scofield’s Waltz” is dedicated to his wife, who in turn gave “Since You Asked,” a song John initially recorded with Joe Lovano in 1990, its name. “More of a feeling than an actual composition” – in the words the guitarist – “Trance Du Hour” is his “version of ’60s jazz à la Coltrane.” It maintains the same high level of energy as his blues “Elder Dance” does.
Along with traditionals “Danny Boy” and “Junco Partner,” John delivers a haunting and somewhat oblique interpretation of Keith Jarrett’s “Coral” – Scofield’s version doesn’t introduce the song’s main theme until the very end. They complete this graceful solo venture, recorded in Katonah, New York in August 2021.
John Scofield’s ECM appearances to date include two albums with Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires group – Bass Desires (recorded 1985) and Second Sight (1987) – in which the guitarist shared frontline duties with Bill Frisell. On Shades of Jade (2004), a third Marc Johnson album, Scofield is heard alongside frequent colleague Joe Lovano. The live double album Saudades (recorded in 2004), meanwhile, features Scofield as a member of Trio Beyond, alongside Jack DeJohnette and Larry Goldings, reassessing the songbook of Tony Williams’ Lifetime. After 2020’s Swallow Tales, John Scofield is the guitarist’s second ECM recording as a leader.
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