John Scofield - Combo 66

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.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Can’t Dance ► 03 - Icons At The Fair ► 10 - Ringing Out (bonus track)

John Scofield - Country For Old Men

John Scofield: guitar; Larry Goldings: piano, organ; Steve Swallow: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

The music of John Scofield, a technically skilled and emotionally consistent guitarist, doesn’t confine itself to just one style. 
His salutary versatility and originality have been noticeable throughout a successful career that spans more than 40 years, addressing styles such as jazz, funk, rock, M-base, post-bop, and fusion with the same unquestionable quality. After last year’s “Past Present”, a Grammy-winning masterpiece of original works, Scofield releases “Country for Old Men”, an album exclusively made of covers that pay homage to American country music. 
The first great moment of the record happens forthwith with Hank Williams’ widely known hit “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, which is fabricated with a modernistic post-boppish attitude. All the fluency and creativity of his language lies here, solidly backed by Steve Swallow’s famous swinging bass, Bill Stewart’s firm pulse, and Larry Golding’s oddly atmospheric organ comping.
James Taylor’s “Bartender’s Blues” comes wrapped in a velvety softness, a mood that is repeated in the folk song “Wayfaring Stranger”, a traditional piece that gains a bluesy feeling with Scofield’s guitar and soulful contortions during Golding’s piano improvisation. 
Wildwood Flower” is a groovy incursion into the Far West slightly deviated from its country roots during the improvisations, while the impeccably and swiftly executed “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard, resorts to trading fours by the end, a process that we can hear again in “Red River Valley”, a rockabilly effort that also swings.
Dolly Parton’s influence during the 60’s and 70’s was acknowledged with the addition of her popular “Jolene” whose bluegrass foundation fades into a more airy atmosphere. The merry “Faded Love”, an original by Bob Willis, is geared up as a jazz standard impregnated with a pastiche of country and blues.
Keeping the integrity of his approach and amazing sound, Mr. Scofield and his associates sculpt these westerners with finely-calibrated jazz strokes and intense feeling. Even lacking the spectacularity of his original compositions, this new one is another worthy entry in Scofield’s vast and many-sided discography.

Favorite Tracks:
02 – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry ► 05 – Wayfaring Stranger ► 08 – Faded Love