John Scofield changes styles with 'A Go Go'

by Eric Cross | 5/4/98 5:00am

Guitarist John Scofield grew up in the 1960s and 1970s listening to and loving the swinging grooves of James Brown, Booker T. Party tunes, hip-shaking fun and a heavy dose of syncopation. Now, with his latest effort, "A Go Go," he has returned to his roots.

In the last two decades, Scofield has been recognized as a great jazz guitarist and composer, playing predominantly in straight-ahead and modern jazz ensembles. He played with Miles Davis in his latter projects of the 1980s, which crossed paths with pop, funk and rhythm and blues.

"A Go Go" follows Scofield's highly successful album "Quiet," which displayed his compositional strength for jazz chamber ensemble. On "A Go Go," he has changed directions, hooking up with the avant-groove trio Medeski, Martin and Wood, whose latest release, "Shackman," prompted Scofield to ask for their services.

Certainly an effort to attract a younger audience, "A Go Go" is a solid album which swings steadily and moves along in a mellow funked up mood.

The title track opens with the relaxed, driving beat of Billy Martin's drums and a few twitches from Chris Wood on bass. Guitar and organ blend nicely, creating a vibe which lasts throughout. Scofield pays careful attention to his tone achieving a strong variety of timbres. John Medeski on organ and electric piano is equally adept at producing different sounds.

The 10 compositions are all from Scofield's pen, and while they don't show the full prowess of his abilities, they do hold some lovely musical nuggets. One such nugget is the two-minute atmospheric "Kubrick." Sustained organ chords provide a backdrop for Scofield's acoustic guitar, Martin's tom taps, and the only appearance of acoustic piano on the album.

"Jeep on 35" allows Scofield to display a smidgen of his under-appreciated whistling technique. "Hottentot" is the only piece which forms a full head of steam. Scofield builds his solo nicely as Medeski gradually swamps the sound and offers a brief glimpse of his loud and dissonant organ technique.

Throughout the album, the rhythm section of Medeski, Martin and Wood interlock tightly allowing Scofield to either skirt around the beat or fall deep into the pocket. Perhaps the only weakness of the album is its lack of daring. It sustains the relaxed mood well, but does not challenge the listener enough.

"Kubrick" and the loosely improvised and humorous "Deadzy" provide short respites from the prevailing funk of the album, and leave one wishing for a little more variety. "A Go Go" is well worth throwing on at your next small gathering, but it does not show off John Scofield's full talent.