In John Scofield’s first trio album as a leader for the ECM label it’s to a series of reunions; Sco is back leading a trio, back with one of his favoured drummers – the great Bill Stewart – and back playing the songs of Steve Swallow (who also plays bass here, completing the trio’s line-up). These are songs from across Swallow’s career, songs that Scofield first heard and learned some 40 years ago. He approaches them with relish, places them in a jazz setting of course, but moves around the edges with his trademark fusion of blues licks and rock bends.
Opener, She Was Young, was originally the song-setting for a Robert Creeley poem as sung by Sheila Jordan. Here, as an instrumental, it’s a woozy, hazy waltz. Scofield’s trio dances lightly around the melody – making noises not dissimilar to that great Ginger Baker Trio record featuring Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell. Of course there’s the added subtlety of Stewart’s brush-work which is magnificent.
When he picks the sticks up to drive the group (Falling Grace) it’s a reminder of some of Sco’s 80s albums – where Adam Nussbaum was often in the chair, when Swallow was on the bass (and sometimes writing the tunes too of course).
These are interesting compositions and arresting performances, something that’s hard not to love – just the right about amount of noodling, groove and grace all in one (Portsmouth Figurations) and some beguiling, bendy melodies which Sco is so well versed in traversing (Awful Coffee).
His intrepid way with the twists and turns of the very Monk-ian In F is certainly a highlight, but again it’s the work of the full trio here as across the record that really shines. Swallow’s proud electric bass really sets the pulse, Stewart’s intuitive drumming darts in and around the lead lines of Scofield’s guitar, other times it’s the guitar darting in and out from either side of that steady cymbal pulse.
When they slow right down for a ballad feel (Away) you can feel – as well as obviously hear – the true mastery at play here. Three wonderful musicians at the top of their game.
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