PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

John Scofield: A Moment’s Peace

The guitarist’s finest record in a dozen years or more.


John Scofield

A Moment’s Peace

Label: Emarcy
US Release Date: 2011-09-27
UK Release Date: 2011-05-16
Amazon
iTunes

Fame is a strange thing for a real jazz musician in 2011. It isn’t the same thing as critical acclaim, which is rare enough and somewhat prized but doesn’t sell as much as a single disc. Fame suggests a public acknowledgment beyond the aficionados, a level of the magic and thrill that a pop star takes for granted.

These days? Jazz instrumentalists would barely know fame if it spray-painted “Bird Lives” on their Selmer Mark VIs.

But guitarist John Scofield comes pretty close. Scofield is the real jazz deal: he first recorded with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker (1974), he played on one of Charles Mingus’s last recordings (1977), he put in a famous stint with post-comeback Miles Davis (1982-85), and he recorded many albums for jazz’s two premiere modern labels (Blue Note and Verve) with leading contemporaries such as Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny and many others. Through all that, he never shied away from electric/fusion dates (he started as a blues player) and ultimately, hit on a path to a kind of fame.

In 1997, Scofield recorded A Go Go with the popular trio Medeski, Martin and Wood. It’s a brilliant record, deserving of a wide audience. And it came out at a time when MMW was amidst building a huge audience with the “jam band” crowd. Scofield, with his stinging guitar, his dancing sense of rhythm, and his catchy compositions, not only fit right in with MMW, but he became jam star on his own.

And for a while there, it looked like jammy fame might be a wrong turn for Sco. Despite continued detours back to more “swinging” jazz, A Go Go was followed by a series of less-and-less joyful funk outings. Bump got some New Orleans groove going in 2000, but then 2002’s Überjam was more thuddingly monotonous. A live outing for the Über band on Up All Night (2003) confirmed what I heard in a live concert that year: that Scofield as a jam player was nothing special.

But -- despite his genuine fame on the jam scene -- Scofield remains so much more than that. His latest recording, A Moment’s Peace, makes this wonderfully, wholly clear. It is the most complete and nuanced recording by Scofield in years -- and it’s neither a truly “traditional” record nor any kind of glance to the past. It is a bit quieter than his recent releases, but that doesn’t make it retrograde or safe. In fact, as lovely as A Moment’s Peace sounds, it is Scofield’s boldest statement in over a decade.

The album closes with a preciously idiosyncratic “I Loves You, Porgy” on which Scofield and organist Larry Goldings exchange commentary against a nearly tempo-less backdrop painted by Brian Blade’s drums and Scott Colley on acoustic bass. Golding’s B3 is otherworldly and slightly atonal, making the Gershwin tune seem like it was unearthed from Martian soil. Scofield plays with his signature blend of delicacy and bluntness, fuzzing out a few notes here and there while still getting a sound that seems to rise off his strings with physical clarity.

The band’s treatment of standards is similarly quirky and strong throughout. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is given a fresh take -- with Goldings playing a pulsing kind-of-reggae offbeat figure throughout. Blade’s rhythm approach, however, works somewhat against that groove, with jazz accents and melodic rolls acting like a gentle version of what Elvin Jones might have played on this kind of tune. Goldings solos memorably over the “A” sections, setting up Sco for a fluid and sharp statement on the bridge.

Both “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” and “I Want to Talk About You” are played in a more conventional jazz style, but both are superb. “Gee Baby” catches Scofield in note-bending mood, like a weirder, subtler B.B. King. Every note is clear and tangy. The Eckstine tune moves Goldings over to piano, where he is just fine. Colley comes through in the mix more completely, letting the partnership with Blade shine at mid-tempo. As Scofield tackles the tougher harmonic path on “Talk About You”, the rest of the band sets up beautiful polyrhythms behind him. Now, this is no jam band in the popular sense, but the group dynamics and sense of play here are outstanding. Everyone in the band is cooking, but there isn’t a cliché in sight.

This is a band that is exceptional at setting a mood. Blade’s mallet work combines with Goldings piano to prepare Sco for a lovely reading of “Throw It Away”, a tune by Abbey Lincoln. Carla Bley’s “Lawns” gets a treatment that is quietly warm, with just a hint of strut in its step. And several Scofiend originals are typically hard to get out of your head. “Johan” has a breathtaking melody that flows from the guitar naturally even as it reminds you of no other tune you’ve heard. “Simply Put” is a pop song, essentially-- simple, clear and a real ear-worm -- but over a pulsing Latin feel. And “Plain Song” has some of the open feeling that you might associate with Pat Metheny’s writing but wedded to a contrasting bridge and then a strutting drum feel on the solo that takes the tune into a different realm.

In a much quieter way than on A Go Go, A Moment’s Peace makes the case that John Scofield is a jazz star who has assimilated a horizon full of influences into a thrilling personal style. This recording feels, however, generously balanced between groove and swing, between melody and texture. In Brian Blade, Scott Colley and Larry Goldings, Scofield has a dream band for going in any direction he chooses within any song. That 360-degree vision of music is a good definition for “jazz” in 2011. And John Scofield, famous or otherwise, is waving that flag on A Moment’s Peace.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.