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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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JOHN SCOFIELD

Past Present

Impulse!/
Universal Music Group 473 841-5

 

 

  1. Slinky

  2. Chap Dance

  3. Hangover

  4. Museum

  5. Season Creep

  6. Get Proud

  7. Enjoy The Future!

  8. MR. Puffy

  9. Past Present


John Scofield - Electric guitar

Joe Lovano - Tenor saxophone

Larry Grenadier - Double bass

Bill Stewart - Drums


John Scofield, that genre-busting virtuoso of the electric guitar, has brought together for this recording two musicians associated with him in the early 1990s, namely Joe Lovano and Bill Stewart. Lovano, in fact, had been a sideman with Scofield on the 1989 Blue Note album Time On My Hands and on a couple of discs (enthusiastically received by the critics) that followed on that label. Stewart had two spells with Scofield's quartet, from November 1990 to May 1995 then rejoining about a year later. To these familiar partners, Scofield has added the vastly experienced bassist Larry Grenadier, highly regarded in particular for his work with the Brad Mehldau Trio. The back story to the album is a sombre one. Scofield lost his son, Evan, to cancer in 2013. Several of the tracks here are by way of a tribute to his son. Get Proud and Enjoy The Future! are phrases that Evan used and MR. Puffy was the affectionate nickname John gave to his son while Evan was receiving treatment for his illness. Theirs was obviously a close relationship.

Scofield has been a consistently creative composer throughout his career and the well shows no sign of drying up. He is known for the wide range of influences which are apparent in his music. Rhythm and blues, country music, soul, fusion and funk can all be heard at different times in his writing, and he is no stranger to straight-ahead jazz either. On this album, I was especially taken by Hangover which, contrary to what we might expect from the title, is actually a lovely ballad in waltz time. I gather that Susan, Scofield's wife, provided lyrics in the first instance so it's a romantic piece rather than a paean to the morning after the night before! Lovano is on fine form, giving the melody a restrained treatment and exhibiting an absolutely beautiful tone. Scofield, meanwhile, is both mellow and engaging while Grenadier contributes a graceful solo. The whole thing simply flows along. Museum, written by Scofield for promotional use by a local museum that has hosted musical events for him for the last seven years, is a group triumph with everyone at the top of their game. A cheerful, appealing number. The blues-influenced Get Proud features a relaxed Lovano and a potent Scofield. MR Puffy gives guitar and tenor scope for laid-back performances while the ever-reliable Stewart and the lively Grenadier also shine.

The easy on the ear Season Creep refers to climate change, so fittingly Scofield brings a melancholic touch to his playing at times. The up-beat Enjoy The Future! has more than a hint of Jim Hall's influence on the guitar and fairly rips along. The title track Past Present is a bopish number, driving forward relentlessly. The opening track, Slinky, is another occasion where the strengths of each player are to the fore - catch the stylish and delicate drumming of Bill Stewart, in particular, here. Chap Dance has a hoe-down feel about it and a distinct sense of tongue-in-cheek.

All in all, this is an admirable CD. Joe Lovano, who is a great tenor player can, especially when playing at faster tempos, lapse into incoherence. There is none of that here. This is Lovano at his most accessible. Admirers of Scofield, as they look back on his body of work, may regard some of his past achievements, for instance, his time with Miles Davis or even his 1977 album, John Scofield Live, as the most fruitful periods of his musical career. Scofield confounds all such verdicts by continuing to produce idiosyncratic and deeply personal new writing, as with this particular disc. There's obviously more to come!

James Poore



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