Critic's pick: John Scofield, 'Uberjam Deux'

Contributing Music WriterJuly 1, 2013 

Two songs into John Scofield's exquisitely summery Uberjam Deux, we run into a sleek street party of a tune called Boogie Stupid, a title that — as it relates to the album's other 10 songs and the entirety of Scofield's extraordinary recording career — is not to be taken literally.

When it comes to moving a groove within an alert jazz context, Scofield is an absolute scholar.

The album title can be taken to heart, though, as it signals a follow-up to Scofield's Grammy-nominated Uberjam — a 2002 record that took the guitarist's considerable jazz ingenuity, which included frequent dabbling in fusion waters (including a mid-'80s alliance with Miles Davis), and refashioned it with sampling, loops and other modern groove mechanics. The result made Scofield a surprise hit with jam-band crowds.

But that was a decade ago. Since then, the guitarist has juggled an array of more jazz-directed projects, including a straight-ahead trio with Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart, a fearsome Tony Williams tribute with Jack DeJohnette and Larry Goldings, and last year's beautiful ballads album, A Moment's Peace.

Uberjam Deux, unsurprisingly, has little to do with any of those projects, save for Scofield's deliciously wiry guitar tone and its abilities to compliment and corrode a melody. The new record even differs from the original Uberjam in many respects. Its feel is looser and less busy, and its musical makeup sounds more organic, borrowing often from wells of traditional soul to color its jazz exploits.

The aforementioned Boogie Stupid is a grand example. It works off a central guitar riff that is all but guaranteed to stick in your brain for days after you hear it. Scofield's lead then expands it to a slice of retro-style R&B/jazz/pop that falls somewhere between the mid-'70s albums of The Crusaders and Steely Dan. The resulting feel is warm and aptly seasonal.

Camelus and Endless Summer open with distinctly modern beats, but they're a tease. They set a pace before Scofield opens them up to let the sun in with the subtle, sleek aid of rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick.

Cutting to the centre of Uberjam Deux's summery mood is Al Green Song. The groove is steadier and slower, with John Medeski (of Medeski Martin & Wood and many previous Scofield projects) supplementing the soul through luminous runs on Wurlitzer organ.

Add the Afrobeat accents of Snake Dance, which suggests an Americanized version of the great early-'70s music of Manu Dibango, and the bright street-savvy strut of Scotown, and you have the makings of the coolest car stereo record of the season. So hit the road, put the top down and let Uberjam Deux rip. Summertime is burning.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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