|Upon my arrival in Boulder, I was greeted with a blissful snowstorm, and stacked lineup of highly anticipated shows, the first being Sunday’s John Scofield Band at the Fox Theatre (which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in grand fashion). To ride the Rockies by day, and then sweat it out with heavyweight groovemeisters by dark, is just a magical cocktail for this suffocating East coaster to encounter upon his arrival in the state of Colorado.
Touring in support of his new record Uberjam, Scofield is attempting to navigate dark and semi-uncharted waters with his youthful three amigos, wading into the rumbling waves with dissonant breakbeat, and displaying maneuvers first taught at the Krautrock School of the 808 beat machines. Touring with second guitarist/resident heartthrob Avi Bortnick, bass player/dub roller Jesse Murphy, and the straight up all-world Adam Deitch on riddims, Sco has lined up a crew of young bucks to set out for new territory to claim.
Some bro from the local jazz station (who probably remembers Scofield from his 80s elevator heyday) came out with a weak and uninspired introduction, as well as a couple of plugs. Then in a hurried entrance the band took the stage and immediately began creating dissonant and enveloping sounds by manipulating their respective armies of effects, before launching into several songs from the new album.
The entire show was primarily a showcase for the recently released disc, and Scofield wasted no time setting his signature chorus and Leslie guitar tone over the ever evolving breakbeat science that Deitch and Murphy create. Each of these new tunes, such as the boom bap of “Offspring” and the tight hip hop backbone anchoring “Animal Farm”, featured uneven sound exploration in a dissonant, free wandering that muddied and slowed the progress. Early on in the gig, such cacophonous moments were saved with soaring and slamming six-string virtuoso from the bandleader. On a tune Sco dedicated to beloved New Orleans, melodies in the vein of his jazzbo heritage surfaced in the form of sweeping passages and gritty emotion, certainly relieving the scores of old-schoolers desperate for the John Scofield of yesterday.
Let it be said that immediately out the gates, another musician onstage was commanding awestruck attention for his commanding presence, drummer extraordinaire Adam Deitch, a superstar of tomorrow and way too slept on. Drummer of Lettuce, The Formula, a svengali with The Boston Stranglers, and sometime Club d’Elf conspirator, Deitch is methodically blazing a whirlwind trans-genre firestorm. His influence and direction are inescapable in Scofield’s new album and journeys. Manipulating dated booty machine samples with complex poly-rhythms; augmenting it with tasteful, flawless drumming, Adam Deitch was a star behind Scofield in the quartet, but light years ahead of him in terms of bouldering the new frontier.
The brilliant vision, a.k.a. Deitch factor, was evident during the finest composition (and most progressive carpet ride) of the show “Jungle Fiction.” With the help of dubbed out bass drop from Jesse Murphy, and a driving wah riddim from Avi Bortnick, Scofield led the quartet into a roller that took no prisoners. After a modest breakbeat drum intro, Deitch hijacked the crazy train and sodomized the notion that jazz-jungle is passive. A bombastic wide bottom end buoyed the vehicle, and Scofield slayed the audience with tweaked-out sonic riddles, and vintage, slamming Hendrix-meets-Metheny melodies. When John layed off the Leslie chorus effect and just shredded with a sharp and modest distortion, the tone melted well within the wheeling, spacious confines of the drum and bass. It was inspiring to witness Sco truly join his band in team execution, one of the set’s few (but mind blowing) thoroughly cohesive passages.
Aside from the tension created from genre meshing triumphs of new music, the rest of the performance and aura seemed far less impressive. Relentless album plugging wore thin on the audience, coupled with the nervous and borderline obnoxious stage banter from Scofield, both undermining the sheer integrity evident in the performance.
Reaching a couple years backward, Sco delivered a pair of tunes from the MMW-backed A Go Go, including “Boozer”, which he opened with a serene jazz solo guitar intro followed by the rollicking banger that knocked like a Roots track. “Acidhead” took the trip psychedelic and soaring, though somewhat hampered by weird free sonic madness from somewhat amateur sampler Bortnick. Again, the confusion saved by the screaming pleading guitar chops from Mr. Uberjam, who did not seem to mind. The experimental spaces gave him countless opportunities to remind you how good he is, and how vast the language(s) he speaks, again to mixed results.
Just when it could not run the gamut any further, during “Idiofunk”, Deitch dropped a tasteful, minimalist 12 bar verse and emphatically ended the rhyme with “a word for our sponsor”, which was spoken in the form of a chronic Scofield tweakout drenched in distorted chorus. All the hip hop heads in the audience were stoked in the freestyle and generally sold on the talents of the youthful backpacker/drummer/producer/trendsetter.
Bortnik was relegated to a lot of non-guitar contribution throughout the show, yet Scofield relinquished the spotlight to the rhythm guitarist, who delivered his composition “Tommorowland.” The new album’s title track was another 808 breakbeat experiment that seemed go over big with the tuned-in audience, who remained in strong and enthused attendance for a two song encore that didn’t cover any ground not yet traversed by the quartet earlier in the set.
There were so many chances taken, a plethora of genres approximated, various levels of boom bap and breakbeat attempted, all to differing results. Scofield is certainly a well-versed player steeped in tradition, but currently he seems on a semi-spiritual quest to ascend to new plateaus with his new band and energized legion of fresh faced, youthful fans. However, no matter how sick the supporting cast, there are certain generation gaps he may never transcend. I convey this sentiment modestly, as I have a great respect for the man’s path taken.
However, in a new world of music that is approximating sampled sounds and electronica (ironically the antithesis of why sampling was developed, to approximate the sounds of live music) there needs to be heavy emphasis on restraint, reserve and dynamics, and the collective cohesion at the forefront of the mission. Given his propensity to play the shit out of his guitar really loud, and most often with his signature tone, Scofield has yet to learn how to “lay back in the cut”, and the beats roll and the music breathe. Scofield succeeds in a fascinating and awe-inspiring display of jazz chops and screaming tube guitar gristle, but fails in terms of bridging the gaps between Bukem and Benson. With the continued presence of Deitch and Murphy, the promised land is not too far the reach of Mr. Uberjam.
[Published on: 3/14/02]
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