John Scofield’s records have always (it says here) contained one or two funk grooves, and Steady Groovin’ is a compilation of those sides from his 1989-1995 albums. Scofield has been called one of the three giants of current jazz guitar by the All-Music Guide. Scofield plays in the rock-influenced idiom you might expect from someone who came of age in the ‘70s, when he studied at Berklee, played with Charles Mingus, among others, and recorded his first handful of albums as a leader. He would release albums on five different labels in the ‘70’s and ‘80s before signing with the legendary Blue Note in 1989. In recent years he’s appeared as a guest on sax player Tommy Smith’s immensely likable Bluesmith CD.
Like almost all compilation CDs, this one is hit-and-miss, with the 1995 Groove Elation recordings sounding the most unremarkable and constipated. By contrast, the tracks from the 1993 Hand Jive album are the greatest, especially “Do Like Eddie”, which features a notable turn from organist Larry Goldings (Despite it’s being named for tenor player Eddie Harris, Golding’s is the more memorable performance to my ears). “Chariots” from Meant To Be and “Twang” from Grace Under Pressure are the closest to rock, with the latter a more torpid example. Humorously enough, “Camp Out” from What We Do is a jazz riff on “The Dance of the Hours”, which of course was parodied into the ultimate letter from camp in “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” by Allan Sherman. Lastly “Fat Lip”, from Time on My Hands is the best solo showcase for Scofield.
This is another one of those albums that goes into the “perfectly fine, but nothing that really excites me” box. Scofield is an obviously talented player, and he’s clearly not one to let his ego get in the way of laying back and letting other players shine on his own albums. The fault may lie in his skills as a composer; nothing here is likely to stand out in the memory after listening, with the possible exception of “Camping Out”, for the previously stated reason—and then, it’s only because of it’s source. A player of distinction, Scofield strikes me as a pedestrian composer. And it’s the song as well as he who plays it.
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// Notes from the Road
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