Label: Verve Records, 2018
Personnel - John Scofield: guitar; Gerald Clayton: piano, organ; Vicente Archer: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.
On Combo 66, top-tier guitarist John Scofield is featured in a quartet with his longtime drummer, Bill Stewart, and two new collaborators, pianist/organist Gerald Clayton and bassist Vicente Archer. Scofield keeps the fire burning, commemorating his 66th anniversary with a provocative blend of post-bop, rock, swinging blues, soul-jazz, and funk.
His nonpareil guitar strokes and bracing language are immediately perceived on the opening tune, “Can’t Dance”. The guitarist discloses his incapacity to dance but, on the other hand, substantiates the ability to play swinging post-bop pieces with hints of soul-jazz à-la Lou Donaldson with groove, humor, and hot bluesy licks.
Also reflecting the state-of-the-art technique of the guitarist within a swinging environment, we find tunes such as “Icons At The Fair”, shaped with taut and joyous abandon and complemented with bar trades between guitar and drums; “King of Belgium”, where the bebop ethos is brought to the present for a tribute to Belgian harmonica master Toots Thielemans; and “Dang Swing”, which captures the essence of the country blues with a buoyant temperament. Clayton is in the spotlight on the latter tune, demonstrating with agile hands why he is the first choice of Charles Lloyd and Roy Hargrove.
An infectious rock riff inspirits “Willa Jean” (Scofield wrote it for his granddaughter) before it takes a more straight-ahead course when the melody becomes salient. A similar energetic stamp is also found on the noir-ish straight-eight “Combo Theme”, but it eventually faints on the ballad “I’m Sleeping In”, gently stirred by Stewart’s brushed snare.
The guitarist also has a penchant for waltzing songs and he colors them with a contagious energy. “Uncle Southern” has a soaring, lenient organ accompanying and brings strong American flavors for a brew of jazz, gospel and R&B, whereas “New Waltzo” exhales some driving funk at a medium-fast speed. Curiously, my favorite tune on the album also flows with a three time feel, but is none of the above. It’s a bonus track called “Ringing Out”, which comes impregnated with an astonishing rhythmic proficiency. Clayton sticks out once again with a superb improvisation imbued with logic flurries containing spiky notes, and expanded with clever harmonic integration.
Scofield creates an automatic empathy, letting us know that he is here to fly for many more years.
01 - Can’t Dance ► 03 - Icons At The Fair ► 10 - Ringing Out (bonus track)