Release date: 6th June 2006
John Scofield (guitar)
Larry Goldings (Hammond organ, electric piano)
Jack DeJohnette (drums)
Disc 1: If; Allah Be Praised; Saudades; Pee Wee; Spectrum
Disc 2: Seven Steps To Heaven; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Love In Blues; Big Nick; Emergency!
Starting as a tribute to Tony Williams, this "Trio Beyond" project soon developed much further.
John Scofield and Jack DeJohnette began to explore the idea of a trio based on a "Tony Williams' Lifetime" setup with John McLaughlin and Larry Young that emerged when the great drummer broke away from Miles Davis in 1969. As Jack DeJohnette reports on the "Saudades" liner notes: "The idea for this trio came out of conversations that John Scofield and I had regarding how important Tony Williams had been to us both musically and as a band leader. Among other things, his innovative propulsive rhythmic approach and his visionary concept of space and time has been a tremendous influence on us both." Larry Goldings was a very good choice to fill the Hammond organ chair in such a trio. With Bill Stewart and Peter Bernstein his trio has been a fixture on the New York scene and has produced some fine, if undervalued, albums. Back in March 1977, Tony Williams had phoned Larry Goldings to suggest a project together but this had never come to fruition. So here was a chance to try to capture something of that "what might have been".
The early organ based "Tony Williams' Lifetime" trio in question is a tough act to follow. Together with Tony Williams on drums, it featured John McLaughlin on electric guitar and Larry Young on Hammond organ. It's only well known album is
"Emergency!" and on that album there was only one track, the ten minute title track, that was worth anything; the remainder of the album "Emergency!" is marred by the strange and tuneless singing of Tony Williams himself. But what a single track! Tony Williams' remarkable drumming opens up with a driving, dominating, beat that breaks down periodically into slower, more open passages in asymmetric time. John McLaughlin, playing a heavily phased electric guitar (it sounds as if he's using something like the trusty Dunlop "Crybaby" wah-wah pedal so beloved of rock guitarists at that time) is signposting many of those extraordinary licks that he would feature later in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Larry Young is bubbling under with bass pedal riffs and contributing swirling keyboard figures that seek to break through the wall of noise of the guitar. It is a tremendous template for a whole subchapter in the jazz organ based trio that was never documented much further. It brought rock sensibility into jazz. Many consider it to be the origin of jazz fusion, predating as it does "Bitches Brew" by four months. Almost certainly it is the "Emergency!" album that brought John McLaughlin to Miles ' attention
Jack DeJohnette had already tried to set some of the record straight in 1999 with the release of
"Ultimate Tony Williams" where he had selected key Tony Williams tracks of this period that emphasised the quality of the music over the dodgy vocals. Of the tracks selected there, "Emergency!", "Allah Be Praised", "Big Nick" and a version of John McLaughlin's "Spectrum" all appear on "Saudades"; so in a sense "Ultimate" is a prelude to the "Trio Beyond" project.
The occasion of the "Saudades" set is a live concert on 21st November 2004 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK, during the London Jazz Festival. Released in a two disc package, it offers almost two hours of superlative playing. The "live" presence is important, giving freshness and spontaneity, yet the sound quality is never anything other than superb. The music making is altogether brilliant. No wonder the album was nominated in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category in the Grammy awards of February 2007.
From the opening track, "If", it is clear that though the approach is a tribute to the Tony Williams / John McLaughlin "Lifetime", the scope of the project has gone beyond this. "If" is a Joe Henderson composition from his years with Milestone which was featured on Larry Young's classic Blue Note album
"Unity". Here it is played more or less as a standard with no rock overtones. John Scofield is in rare form. The abiding image of Sco is of that somewhat hunched, constricted, player squeezing highly enigmatic phrases from out of some unknown but unavoidable constraint. Yet here he is open, fluid, breaking into long rippling solo lines in a way that we have almost never heard before. Larry Goldings and Jack DeJohnette fill out a memorable opener with perceptive organ and drum mini solos.
There are also two original compositions by the band, the title track, "Saudades" and "Love in Blues". It is with "Saudades" that the first introduction of rock sensibility comes in. John Scofield's guitar licks are filled out with something approaching the rock sound used by John McLaughlin on "Emergency!" The effect is more subtle, less fusion and more jazz based , but there is wah-wah and additional distortion in there compared with Sco's more normal sound, albeit everything taking place with understatement and taste. By mid track, Sco is using some effect that recalls the Beatles' use of pre-recorded guitar phrases being played backwards. The shuffle beat is not quite out and out rock either, pointing towards a rock inspired jazz, perhaps somewhat similar in intention to Chris Potter's "Undergound". "Love In Blues" is similar in conception and realization with more "backward guitar" and distorted guitar effects and a raunchier driving beat. With the emphasis on more straight ahead blues, the connection with late 'sixties rock and John McLaughlin is stronger than ever.
The word "saudade" is Portuguese and means a kind of longing for someone or some thing important in the past. It goes beyond recollection and includes the idea of what might have happened and what could have happened in the future. In thinking about Tony Williams, what happened when he died unexpectedly of heart failure in 1997 while undergoing routine surgery, what he might have achieved had he lived, saudade is an apt way to sum up how so many in the jazz world feel.
The non-Williams material is completed by Larry Goldings' ethereal "As One", which first appeared on the Goldings /Bernstein/Stewart album of the same name in 2001.
"Pee Wee" is one of Tony Williams' earliest compositions for Miles Davis, appearing on the album "ESP" while "Seven Steps To Heaven" is a Miles Davis /Victor Feldman composition from the Miles Davis album of the same name on which Tony Williams also played. The treatment of "Pee Wee" is a real revelation, beginning with a long slow unaccompanied solo from John Scofield, bringing in drums and organ, filling out into a deep, slow, meditation. "Seven Steps To Heaven", which opens disc 2, is a successful transcription of the Miles Davis classic to organ based trio format with plenty of scope for Jack DeJohnette to reach out before Sco cuts loose on a lucid and long solo that is epic in conception and realisation.
"Spectrum" is a take on the John McLaughlin composition that first appeared on his 1969 album
"Extrapolation" ,described by Richard Cook and Brian Moreton as: "one of the finest jazz records ever made in Europe". The rock basis is much more evident here as Larry Goldings' organ vamps and descending solo lines become more dominant and the drumming really starts to sound as if Tony Williams was there in Jack DeJohnette's seat. Once again Sco is flying high on top of such venomous 'propulsion', progressing from flowing, relatively standard, jazz licks to a kind of psychedelic breakdown mid stream where organ and guitar effects are used to evoke something very spacey, very 'sixties indeed, opening out into a long, non linear, drum solo.
"I Fall In Love Too Easily" offers a laid back interlude, starting out with Larry Goldings on electric piano before switching to Hammond organ for long and intense solos swapped with guitar, "Big Nick" is a John Coltrane composition, here given a perceptive rendition in organ based trio format. It emphasises once again John Scofield's mastery of the form and the Trio's balance and ease in handling complexity and making a music that is open and available.
The concert finishes on a rousing version of "Emergency!" which lives up to every expectation. In the opening Sco thrashes slash chords through a wah-wah distortion box while Jack DeJohnette emulates the energy and intensity of the original. As soon as the audience feels that the rousing start is going to give way to something more tame and conventional, it becomes clear that the a-rhythmic breakdowns and atonal snatches of the original are going to reappear in a new, highly improvised form. As if to challenge the notion that Tony Willams' singing was a huge mistake on the "Emergency!" album, there are even snatches of chant-like vocals from Jack DeJohnette, albeit mercifully brief. The track ends in something approaching a thrash metal workout. Extraordinary, showing just how much mileage there is in the jazz/rock interface that Tony Williams briefly established.
The result is not just a great album but a revaluation of a largely undervalued aspect of Tony Williams' work. Now we realise that we should not just remember him for his inspirational work in the second great Miles Davis quintet, nor just for the free jazz that he helped pioneer in his career as a leader with Blue Note but also as a pioneer of a very feisty and intelligent meeting of jazz with rock sensibility.
Good quality sound clips of all the tracks on the album are available on the John Scofield web site.
Star Rating *****
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