Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 21: John Scofield, "A Go Go"

Artist: John Scofield
Album: A Go Go
Year: 1997
Label: Verve

It seems that, within the world of jazz, musicians are far more open to sitting in with one another, and continuing to push musical boundaries and mix genres. This time honored tradition goes back as far as the genre itself, with icons like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and countless others combining their talents and creating some of the most amazing recordings in history. As jazz faded to the fringes with the rise of rock music, these pairings and groupings survived, yet with far less fanfare. Keeping the tradition alive in our modern times. Dayton, Ohio's own John Scofield enlisted the avant and original trio of Medeski, Martin, and Wood for a recording session, and results are pure musical bliss. Having played with the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Jaco Pastorius among a host of others, John Scofield stands as one of the finest modern jazz guitarists, as well as one of the best in history. Scofield has released nearly thrity solo records over the past three decades, and his more recent work supports the arguement that he is now coming into the "prime" of his career. This is no more evident then on the ten superb tracks that make up his phenomenal 1997 release, A Go Go.

A Go Go finds John Scofield beginning to blend his solid base in jazz with his love for the stylings and sound of funk music. While Scofield had eluded to such sounds earlier in his career, it was not until this album that he truly began to explore the concept. Overall, A Go Go is a brilliant collection of carefree, airy jams with a heavy funk groove, and the way in which the four musicians interact is truly unparalleled. The album runs from immensely bright tunes, like "Chank," to deep, somewhat darker songs like, "Kubrick." Regardless of the mood of the music, the groove is present throughout, and this is as much a head bobbing or foot tapping album as you'll ever hear. A Go Go gets very "spacey" and highly avant on songs like "Deadzy," yet the loose, meandering, lines still hold the groove and keep the album wonderfully cohesive. Much of this cohesive feel can be attributed to the amazing production work by Lee Townsend. Having worked with artists from Elvis Costello to Charlie Hunter, Townsend simply understands how to make great musicians sound their best. The true testament to the amazing music found on A Go Go, can be seen in the fact that this album, which certainly pushes the boundaries on "what" is jazz, topped the jazz album sales charts. Simply put, A Go Go is, by far, one of the greatest jazz records ever recorded.

It obviously goes without saying that, in the case of A Go Go, the primary performer is truly equaled by his backing band. The partnership that was formed on this album would be further explored on Medeski, Martin, and Wood's Combustication, and capped off with the quartet formally releasing an album with 2006's Out Louder. The chemistry between the four musicians is readily apparent, and they are truly functioning as a unit, playing brilliantly off of one another. John Medeski brings some of his funkiest, hardest grooves of his career, and whether on keyboards, clavinet, piano, or Wurlitzer, he is absolutely amazing. Drummer Billy Martin is also on top of his game, throwing multiple tempos within single songs, and perfectly displaying the concept of "open space," most notably on the song, "Southern Pacific." The bass playing of Chris Wood is what gives the songs the final piece that they need to truly groove, and his light, yet deep tone and style form the perfect completion to the group. As the quartet work though each song, the mood remains warm, yet it is undeniably hip and funky throughout. The chemistry reaches it's apex, as the four musicians become a single flawless unit on the stunning piece, "Hottentot." While all four musicians on A Go Go have collaborated with countless "big names" from multiple genres, it is their work together which brings out the best in all of them, and forms one of the greatest jazz groupings in history.

One aspect that sets the guitar playing of John Scofield apart from that of his peers is that, throughout A Go Go, there is clearly an underlying "fun" or happiness to his sound. While this is true of a majority of his albums, in his work with Medeski, Martin, and Wood, he truly seems to have found a musical comfort that is not seen elsewhere in his catalog. It is clear that the recording sessions were an enjoyable experience for all involved, and the bouncy, bright tone to Scofields' playing makes the album all the more pleasurable. This is personified with the upbeat, jovial whistling by Scofield throughout the dazzling track, "Jeep On 35." Whether Scofield is playing brilliant single note progressions, experimenting with different chord combinations, or simply adding textures to the sounds of his bandmates with intermittent plucking, there is no "filler" anywhere on A Go Go, and every song is absolutely fantastic. There are moments, such as on the song, "Green Tea," where Scofield's guitar truly sounds as if it's singing, and moments like these serve as a testament to how talented a player there lives in Scofield. While John Scofield was already a guitar legend before this recording, the complex compositions, musical diversity and pure joy in playing that shines through on A Go Go vaults both him and the album into the upper echelon of the finest jazz players and recordings in history.

Few can argue that, not only is John Scofield one of the most talented guitarists in the world today, but he is also worthy of being mentioned as one of the best in history. His clear, bright, happy guitar tone is like none other, and the precision with which he plays is virtually unparalleled. His compositions have always been, and continue to be, some of the most original and innovative musical pieces in modern music. When he partnered with jazz giants, Medeski, Martin, and Wood in 1997, one of the greatest quartets of modern jazz was instantly formed and the three albums that they have recorded rank among the finest of the era. The addictive, beaming bounce that is created by Medeski, Martin, and Wood truly takes Scofield's guitar playing, and his compositions as a whole, to an entirely new level. While Billy Martin and Chris Wood play superbly throughout A Go Go, it is the interplay between Scofield and John Medeski that shine brightest, and it makes the experience of the album a true joy time and time again. Though he has worked with some of the most famous names in jazz, and released nearly thirty albums over his career, when John Scofield partnered with Medeski, Martin, and Wood, he undoubtedly hits his stride and the music created by the quartet is nothing short of phenomenal. While this gang of four fantastic musicians have released three albums together, it is their first recording, John Scofield's 1997 album, A Go Go, that stands as their finest, and easily one of the best jazz fusion records in history.

Standout tracks: "A Go Go," "Boozer," and "Jeep On 35."

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