John Scofield Trio – Uncle John’s Band – ECM

by | Dec 13, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews | 0 comments

Scofield shows the three V’s

John Scofield Trio – Uncle John’s Band – [TrackList follows] – ECM 2796/97, CD 1: 46:50; CD 2: 42:52 [CD/digital: 10/13/23; vinyl: 11/17/23] ****:

(John Scofield – electric guitar; Bill Stewart – drums; Vicente Archer – double bass)

On John Scofield’s ECM double album Uncle John’s Band (which dropped in mid November), the guitarist displays vibrancy, variety and versatility. Across nearly two hours and 14 tunes, Scofield and his trio—drummer Bill Stewart and double bassist Vicente Archer—showcase seven Scofield originals and seven covers: three from Bob Dylan, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead; two jazz pieces from Bud Powell and Miles Davis; and two standards. Uncle John’s Band is Scofield’s third ECM release and the carefully counterpoised and engineered record illustrates the label’s mainstay of finely-recorded material and balanced flow. Uncle John’s Band is  available as a CD, digital download files and on vinyl LP. This review refers to the CD. ECM executive producer Manfred Eicher expertly mixed and sequenced the album while engineer Tyler McDiarmid catches all the sonic subtlety. The CD and LP include Scofield’s short notes for each track.

Disc one starts and ends with folk-inflected radio hits. The trio open with Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” influenced by the Byrds’ rather than Dylan’s acoustic original. The intro has a raga-ish, Asian Indian intonation illuminated by Archer’s percussive elements and Scofield’s lithe guitar. Dylan’s familiar theme commences about two minutes into the nine-minute rendition when Scofield evokes the lyrics via his fretwork. There’s an enticing looseness throughout “Mr. Tambourine Man” which embodies the threesome’s ability to adapt anything to their musical vision.

Young’s “Old Man” also exemplifies the trio’s approach to using space. Nothing is cluttered here. The band takes the song into a wider path than Young with rhythmic ebb and flow and memorable soloing, notably Archer’s solo bass improvisation. 

Between those two tracks are Davis/Powell’s “Budo” and four Scofield compositions. One standout is Scofield’s “How Deep,” an example of how Stewart does more than just keep time. Scofield explains, “What Bill does is more than ‘playing the drums’, he’s a melodic voice in the music, playing counterpoint, and comping, while also swinging really hard.” On the flip side is “TV Band,” which has a funk-filtered foundation. It would have felt right at home on Scofield’s 1998 A Go Go, his collaboration with Medeski Martin & Wood. The group heads back to a folk/country inspiration on Scofield’s “Back in Time.” They utilize a re-imagined alteration of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”—a popular crossover country hit from the late 1940s later done by Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby and lots more—as a steppingstone for musical expression and exploration. Scofield’s “Nothing Is Forever” employs the blues as a basis for the band’s immeasurable interplay. Meanwhile, bop gets a mildly modern spin on a four-minute arrangement of “Budo,” where the pace is exuberant and the drums push the tune forward.

There are more Powell and Davis connections on the second disc. The ballad “Stairway to the Stars” has been performed by artists from Glenn Miller in the 1930s to  Mel Tormé in the 1990s. Powell did it in 1956. This is Scofield and his trio at their most tender. Scofield’s filigreed guitar blends beautifully with Stewart’s cymbals and Archer’s susceptible bass notes. The threesome’s soft side also suffuses an elegantly-etched translation of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “Somewhere (from West Side Story). Scofield recalls seeing the musical film when he was 11 and it obviously made an impression.

Then there is the scurrying “Ray’s Idea,” credited to bassist Ray Brown and arranger Gil Fuller and first recorded by the Dizzy Gillespie big band in 1946. Miles Davis did this in 1953. Scofield’s “Mo Green” is not a reference to a mobster from 1972′ s The Godfather  movie. Scofield states in his liner notes, “I borrowed the vibe from one of my own tunes, ‘Green Tea’. It’s like that but different.” A solid funk/swing spirit pervades “Mask,” which Scofield penned during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, hence the title. Scofield, Stewart and Archer conclude with the title track, found on the Grateful Dead’s 1970 album Workingman’s Dead. Scofield’s adaptation should not come as a surprise to his fans. Scofield has been a guest on the rock jam band scene for numerous years. Scofield has performed “Uncle John’s Band” on stage many times over the last two decades as an invitee to Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s groups.

—Doug Simpson

Uncle John’s Band — John Scofield

CD 1:
Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan)
How Deep (Scofield)
TV Band (Scofield)
Back in Time (Scofield)
Budo (Miles Davis/Bud Powell)
Nothing Is Forever (Scofield)
Old Man (Neil Young)

CD 2:
The Girlfriend Cord (Scofield)
Stairway to the Stars (Matty Malneck/Frank Signorelli/Mitchell Parish)
Mo Green (Scofield)
Mask (Scofield)
Somewhere (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim)
Ray’s Idea (Ray Brown/Gil Fuller)
Uncle John’s Band (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter)

More information through ECM

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Album Cover dor Scofield, John - Uncle Johns Band

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