Album Remarks & Appraisals:
John Scofield updates his early-90s quartet with drummer Bill Stewart and saxophonist Joe Lovano by recruiting bassist Larry Grenadier for his fetching, appropriately titled impulse! debut, Past Present.
Between 1990 and 1992, the celebrated guitarist released three well-received discs, Meant to Be, Time on My Hands and What We Do for the Blue Note label as the John Scofield Quartet. On those records, either Marc Johnson or Dennis Irwin played bass. Nevertheless, Grenadier also has history playing with Scofielld; he toured with Scofield in support of the 1996 disc, Quiet.
The nine exciting tunes Scofield penned on Past Present also reflects his philosophy on playing jazz music. He stresses the importance of being knowledgeable of the music's deep, complex roots while simultaneously being spontaneous and in the moment while performing it. For an artist with such a multifaceted discography as Scofield's, getting to the root of jazz means channeling the blues, as demonstrated on the disc's closing, titled-track.
John's love for R&B and blues tends to inform all of his discs regardless of idiomatic styling. After all, his first guitar hero was the legendary B.B. King, who strummed very vocal-like single-note melodies. Singable melodies and infectious rhythms shine on the soul-jazz opener, Slinky, on which the guitar tickles an instantly catchy riff before Stewart underscores it with a supple 5/4 groove that suggests New Orleans second-line rhythm. Grenadier propels the momentum with a loping blues bass line while Scofield and Lovano trade soulful licks and tasty solos.
Past Present also highlights Scofield's love for country music on the whimsical Chap Dance, which evokes both the wide-eyed Americana compositions of Aaron Copeland and the hoedown sophistication of Ornette Colemans harmolodics. Scofield says that the songs exuberant opening melody and spry rhythmic pulse remind him of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammersteins 1943 Broadway musical, Oklahoma!, particularly the scenes with the cowboys dancing in chaps and vests.
As Scofield continues to solidify his reputation as one of modern jazz's most dynamic guitarists, history will reveal Past Present as an integral chapter in his expansive discography one that reflects him being more reverential than referential to his personal and professional past while remaining fresh and ever-present.
Personnel: John Scofield (guitar); Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone); Larry Grenadier (double bass); Bill Stewart (drums).
Liner Note Author: Josef Woodard.
Recording information: The Carriage House Studios, Stamford, Connecticut (03/16/2015/03/17/2015).
Photographer: Philippe Levy-Stab.
During the '90s, ever-changing guitarist John Scofield paired with saxophonist and fellow Berklee alum Joe Lovano, drummer Bill Stewart, and bassists Charlie Haden, Marc Johnson, and Dennis Irwin, respectively, for three highly praised albums, Time on My Hands (1990), Meant to Be (1990), and What We Do (1992). Those albums found the oft-electrified Scofield, who played with Miles Davis in the '80s, investigating songs of a more acoustic, often straight-ahead, pre-fusion jazz style. After an over 20-year break, Scofield reunited with Lovano and Stewart for 2015's Past Present. Also joining the group this time is longtime Scofield associate bassist Larry Grenadier, who replaces the late Irwin. As with the quartet's previous work, Past Present is a largely acoustic jazz album, with Scofield playing on an amped, semi-hollow-body guitar. Scofield also supplies all of the compositions on Past Present, some of which, poignantly, were inspired by his son Evan Scofield, who died from cancer at age 26 in 2013. While the music on Past Present harks back to jazz's pre-rock-influenced golden age, there's nothing retro, staid, or unadventurous about the group's performance. This is propulsive, often angular and kinetic music that touches upon low-down blues ("Slinky"), Horace Silver-esque soul-jazz ("Get Proud"), and airy, swinging post-bop ("Museum"). In that sense, it brings to mind the '70s work of Scofield contemporary Pat Martino. Barring 2003's Oh! by the supergroup ScoLoHoFo, Past Present is one of the few times Lovano has recorded with Scofield in recent years and it's invigorating to hear them together; Lovano's warm saxophone dances against the crunchy decay of Scofield's guitar. It's that burlap-on-velvet combination that gives cuts like the languid "Hangover" and the moody "Season Creep" an organic, tactile quality. There's also a gleeful, almost comedic nature to the quartet's interplay, as if the musicians are sharing an inside joke. "Chap Dance," a bright, Western-swing-meets-soul-bop cut, is clearly a somewhat cheeky nod to saxophonist Sonny Rollins' take on "I'm an Old Cowhand." However, the comedic quality sometimes takes on a nuanced, melancholic tone, as on "Mr. Puffy." A reference to Evan Scofield's appearance while undergoing chemotherapy, the song starts out sounding sad, then quickly transitions into a tougher, overtly funky midsection anchored by a guttural, low-end riff from Lovano. Ultimately, the track, as with all of Past Present, is rife with love and in-the-moment energy inspired by Scofield's past experience, but created with a hopeful eye to the future. ~ Matt Collar
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