Music lovers are inherently prone to making lists. We do it all the time. Our mental instincts tell us to compare frequently. Learn which is better, rank whatever is on your mind in comparison to the last time you had a similar experience. Be the judge, it’s your opinion, after all, so it cannot be incorrect. Sports fans are of a similar ilk, albeit more obvious and statistic driven. List makers, the lot of them.
Ask a music lover to name three guitar players with real talent and you will get back as many answers as you think you will. Depending on the genre that happens to be their favorite, you may hear answers as diverse as Jimi Hendrix or Carlos Santana to B.B. King or Chuck Berry. Satriani, Clapton, Page. Trey, Muddy, Warren. First name, last name, it makes no difference. Everybody has their favorite player in each genre. So let’s narrow the playing field, shall we?
Ask the same music lover to name three jazz guitarists with the most talent still making music and you’re fishing in a much shallower pool. Pat Metheney belongs on the list, that’s a given. A very strong case could be made for Bill Frisell to be sure. Al Dimeola, Robben Ford, Les Paul, where do you start?
I’ll tell you where you start: John Scofield. Note for note, Scofield has been atop that list for decades. An imaginative composer and innovative improviser, his legacy has continued to build with each new release; 33 of them since 1977. And that’s just as the main artist. He has collaborated on more cuts than I care to count and made every one of them a better song in the process.
READ ON for AJ’s review of John Scofield at the Portland Jazz Fest…
Hence my excitement when the Portland Jazz Festival (officially the Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air Portland Jazz Festival presented by The Oregonians A&E Celebrating Blue Note Records At Seventy) announced Scofield’s appearance at the Portland Art Museum. I hadn’t seen him for over ten years and, frankly; don’t remember too much about that night, if you know what I mean. Plus, over his last few releases I have noticed a bit more of an electronic input on some of his songs, spacey interludes utilizing loops and feedback, and wondered how that would translate into the live act.
Turns out I needn’t worry. Promptly at 9:30 the John Scofield Trio took the stage to a great reception and proceeded to school the house in how instrumental jazz is made. After being introduced by none other than frequent collaborator and fellow participant in the Jazz Festival, Joe Lovano, the trio (Scofield, Bill Stewart on drums and Max Penman on upright bass) lit into Wee, a marvelous old Charlie Parker number that allowed each member to stretch out and get into the groove. They didn’t slow down either, sliding right into Green Tea and taking us down a long and winding path of fluid solos and solid songs.
At times it seemed that Stewart and Penman were trying to keep up as Scofield ran the frets up and down, eyes closed as if in a trance and telling his story with his Ibanez electric. They were joined for several songs by the aforementioned Joe Lovano, one of the most gifted saxophone players on the planet. The addition of Lovano’s tenor sax, both as rhythm and soloist, made this a better band. The rhythm section seemed to relax more and the songs flowed much easier. Especially evident during The Low Road, Lovano’s presence lifted the ensemble to another level.
Scofield brought both loops and feedback into play about mid set in a rambling improvisation that eventually made its way into (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. His use of effects, coupled with the slap bass technique employed by Penman cold have gone on all night. Instead, it drifted around through a slow, bluesy interlude reminiscent of the Tennessee Waltz, tossed some great interplay between all three musicians in for kicks and finished big for the fans in the cheap seats. Wonderful.
A word here about the Portland Art Museum. The museum itself is world class, with thousands of square feet of exhibits stretching over an entire city block. While it houses masterpieces and relics from around the world, it is not known for its use as a concert hall. The hall at the museum was slightly larger than a high school gymnasium, without the risers, but the same shape. This being an art museum, there were tasteful murals and tapestries on the walls with plush carpet underfoot instead of basketball hoops and hardwood floors. But the acoustics, although softened by all the fabric, still reminded me of sitting at a school assembly, girls on one side of the aisle, boys on the other (Catholic school, sorry. Whadayagonnado?). The snaps of the snare drum and certain higher bass notes ricocheting off the rear walls muddled the sound mix to the point of distraction at times. Add to that the fact that, like back in Albertus Magnus High School, the only refreshments available came from a porcelain fountain situated between the men’s and lady’s rooms and you take away from the class act that is pouring its heart out on stage.
That being said, I don’t think John Scofield will be giving up the first slot on my “Top Jazz Guitarists” list any time soon. He is truly a master at what he is doing and the passion and innovation in his playing is second to none. I start with Scofield and go down from there. Now, on the list of greatest shows I would see during the Jazz Festival, this particular set won’t be sitting on top by the time it winds down next weekend. But that’s due more to the acoustics and overall vibe of the show. Just my opinion, there. But, aren’t opinions the basic components for any non-statistical lists? One’s judgments determine rankings, etcetera, etcetera. Don’t get me started.
Rock on through the fog,
(#1 on my list of complimentary closes, followed by Peace, Love and Regards, in that order.)