Release date: September 18th, 2007
A new John Scofield album always brings thoughts of: what next? The excellent "Saudades" was a homage to Tony Williams'"Lifetime" while the equally challenging "Out Louder" continued the trance jazz collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood".
The new album, "This Meets That" is altogether more mellow, more reflective. It is in the same vein as "Quiet" and "EnRoute" and features the same "John Scofield Trio" (John Scofield (guitar) Steve Swallow (bass), Bill Stewart (drums)) as its basis. But whereas "Quiet" features a large ensemble, "This Meets That" scores with a stripped down but gritty brass section (Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax and bass clarinet), Jim Pugh (trombone), Lawrence Feldman (tenor sax and flutes) and John Swana (trumpet and flugelhorn)). The new album also benefits from John Scofield playing electric guitar rather than the acoustic guitar used on "Quiet".
At its best "This Meets That" aspires to the excellence of the now much forgotten 1995 John Scofield album "Groove Elation" which used a very similar sounding brass section but to more upfront funk effect.
Much will be made of John Scofield's embracing of Americana on "This Meets That", a point made inescapable by the Bill Frisell guitar voicings on many of the tracks, the inclusion of folk and pop references and the appearance of Bill Frisell himself on one track, a jazz reworking of "House Of The Rising Sun". John Scofield justifies the inclusion of this since, just like the millions who learned guitar in the 'sixties (but, of course never aspired to Sco's level of excellence) it was "the first tune he learned to play". But, albeit in passing, it should be observed just what a central place the song has in the direction taken by modern music.
The tune started out as an English folk song and had words added by Georgia Turner and Bert Martin. It is usually thought to have been placed into its modern form by folk singer Dave Van Ronk who performed it in Greenwich Village in the early 'sixties. Bob Dylan included it on his debut CBS album, as is widely reported without Van Ronk's knowledge. However, Nina Simone had recorded a version two years before Dylan's. In a further twist, Newcastle group "The Animals" produced a full blown rock / R&B version in 1964 that became a world wide best seller. Bob Dylan's hearing of The Animals' version precipitated his move into electric music. Meanwhile Eric Burdon of the Animals claimed they all along they had first heard it when Josh White appeared in the UK on a folk blues tour in the early 'sixties. The point: this song is deeply influential in the make up of modern music and people's appreciation of it. If jazz is to remain a force in people's musical lives, should it be addressing influences such as this? John Scofield and Bill Frissell's version on "This Meets That" takes up that challenge. If that gets called 'Americana', so be it.
The bigger question is: would you rather hear Josh White, Nina Simone, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, The Animals, John Fahey, Muse or Scofield/Frissell performing it? It has to be said that some of the fire and angst in the Josh White and The Animals versions has been lost over the years. The same can be said of the version of the Richards/Jagger staple "I Can't Get No Satisfaction", included here as a kind of closing joke and justified as one of the other songs that Sco first learned to play.
Reservations like these aside, "This Meets That" is an engaging and entertaining album with a warm, good time feel that seems to be saying life even from the perspective of the blues is not all about struggle and alienation, it can be about belonging and acceptance. Stand out tracks are "Shoe Dog" (a light touch on Sco's low down gumbo take on the blues), "Down D"(which starts with a mellowed down hint of Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" before developing into a slow loping blues with hints, perhaps, of John Fahey, long term initiator of Americana) , "Heck Of A Job" (featuring an intro with Sco on wah-wah guitar leading into another inventive low down gumbo blues outing) and "Behind Closed Doors"(an out and out ballad that could easily take its place as the last dance at a country wedding).
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