Posted by Mike Hobson on 02/01 at 02:39 PM
Last Thursday night, a packed Schwab Auditorium was treated to a unique live jazz experience by the John Scofield and Joe Lovano Quartet. John Scofield is considered one of the “big three” living jazz guitarists along with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. Saxophonist Joe Lovano, in addition to releasing Grammy nominated works with the Blue Note label, is the chair of Jazz Performance at Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was in this city that the two first started collaborating in 1971.
Lovano sat in on Harvard Square club sessions with Scofield and others. Since then, aside from a stint together in the 90s with jazz super group ScoLoHoFo, Scofield and Lovano collaborations have been rare, earning a special reputation among jazz critics. In their current quartet, they are backed by New Zealand-born Matt Penman on bass and drummer Bill Stewart. The term “backed” is used here loosely. The Quartet gave a truly virtuosic showing that had all four working their roles to the limit. No one, however, deviated into self-serving improvisations to the detriment of the group.
The balance struck here (bringing genre-defining talent together, without risking the too-many-chefs-in-the-kitchen feel) was one the Quartet’s most impressive strengths. From the introduction with Lovano’s “Fort Worth,” the group came up from a free form muddling of sounds, and shifted with ease into a tightly grouped new bop phrasing. Lovano took the first solo of the night at this point. In a pre-performance question and answer forum, Scofield said of hearing Lovano play for the first time, “He was playing, and I heard the history of jazz. Joe was the first guy I heard that was my age that could dig deep into that tradition and play modern.”
Indeed, “history of jazz” stuck with me as the perfect articulation of Lovano’s remarkably agile sound. His improvisation comprised distant corners of jazz styles, going from fast bop Parkeresque complexity, to broad sweeping notes characterized almost as much by the pauses in between, as their specific enunciation. Lovano’s masterful style was also expressed in his dynamics. He knew when to take his horn into boisterous bluesy territory and when to draw back to subtle, almost flute-like delicacy. In addition to “Fort Worth,” the Quartet played one other Lovano original, “Cymbolism.” This piece was a special display of group cohesion, as Scofield and Lovano both got into trading solos of 12, 10, 4, and 2 bar lengths with drummer Bill Stewart.
The Quartet also played three of Scofield’s originals: “Since You Asked,” “Let the Cat Out,” and “Twang.” As the second song of the set, “Since You Asked” started with a guitar-only introduction, showing off Scofield’s ability to captivate an audience independently before easing back into the Quartet’s exceptionally unified feel. The song progressed into a bass solo, a display of Mark Penman’s abilities, and another great embodiment of the group’s unity. Bill Stewart had established himself to this point as a bold, outward-playing drummer, generous with fills and accented kicks. As the Penman bass solo was starting, there was concern for a moment that Stewart’s fearless style would overwhelm it. This notion was promptly dismissed, as the drums pulled back with an ease and professionalism that draws the line between mere “drummer” and “musician.” Stewart’s dynamic expertise brought out the full warm and earthy tones of Penman’s finger picked stand up bass, tones with a certain grace lost on electric and synthesized bass sounds more common in modern music.
Their set explored some jazz classics: “Hackensack” by Theolinus Monk, “Theme for Ernie” by John Coltrane, and an encore of Miles Davis’ “Budo.” To call these “covers” would be a cheapening of the Quartet’s nuanced interpretations. The improvisational nature of quality live jazz transcends this designation. The Coltrane song was definitely a highlight of the evening, as Lovano’s “history of jazz” variety was in full form during his solos. They were both a fitting tribute to one of jazz saxophone’s patron saints, and a bold indication of the art form’s current state. Scofield was relatively grounded during this piece, sticking mainly to cool, laid-back phrasings.
It was during a free form improvisational jam earlier in the show that he put his signature on the evening. This piece had all four musicians doing interesting and creative things, yet they all seemed to be working to highlight Scofield’s soloing. His was a display of range in style and creativity not often seen on the electric guitar. He was using an assortment of effects pedals, one of which gave him a particularly experimental feel by taking tersely picked note groupings and looping them in an inverted fashion. They punctuated the space in between phrases with notes reworked into a gradual fade-in and abrupt, jarring peaks of volume and tone.
Joe Lovano, speaking on playing with Scofield, told the audience that “John and I have found a sound together,” a statement that jazz musicians and critics understand to carry a great deal of weight. “In jazz,” he elaborated, “your tone is not the only thing that is your sound, your sound is an approach. It’s about your articulation and the way you can play together.” If anyone in the audience was confused by this rumination in the pre-show Q&A, the music that followed more than explained it.
Author: Mike Hobson
Bio: Mike Hobson is a junior at Penn State majoring in English and minoring in human development and family studies. He is a member of the Penn State Rugby Football Club, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, and he plays drums for local funk band Jackie and the Stylists. Growing up around a vibrant live entertainment scene in the Philadelphia area, Mike developed a passion for live music and comedy from a young age. His favorite bands are Led Zeppelin, the Meters, and Moe.
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