July 1, 2004

John Scofield Strips Down

“Whenever I listen to tapes of my gigs, I usually say, ‘Oh God, why can’t I ever play like that when I’m making a studio album?’”

For revered jazz funkateer John Scofield, the short-term answer to his own question was choosing not to track his latest release in a studio. Recorded during four nights at the legendary Blue Note jazz club in New York City, EnRoute [Verve] is Scofield’s first live album in years, and the project freed the guitarist to get warmed up and play things straight through.

“In the studio, you never get warmed up, because you’re thinking about the production values, the sound, and the arrangement,” he says. “But on a gig, I can play with the band for 80 minutes or so, and then something usually starts to happen. There’s some kind of magic that flows when a band gets all geared up—especially in the jazz idiom. And when the audience is into what you’re doing, it makes you feel good and play better. No man is an island, you know? I really love the feeling when a room is happening.”

The album’s magical vibe is enhanced by the fact that Scofield downsized to a trio with long-time comrades Steve Swallow (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums). As a result, his rich textures, cascading arpeggios, and rhythmic interplay are right in your face.

“In a trio, you really are naked,” says Scofield. “You must use everything you have—single notes, chords, and double-stops—to create different textures.”
Scofield also cut loose a chunk of his rig for the recordings, playing his signature Ibanez AS200 simultaneously through a Matchless DC30 2x12 combo and a direct box. There’s a bit of a DigiTech Whammy pedal on “Toogs,” and some subtle effects on a couple of other songs, but the album is mostly fingers to guitar to amp.

“I didn’t want to use a lot of effects for this recording, because I’ve been doing that a lot lately,” he says. “And, anyway, the music we were playing was kind of traditional, so obvious signal processing wasn’t really appropriate.”

Sco fans will be thrilled that EnRoute showcases some of the guitarist’s most harmonically complex writing, and that the trio also flies through some bop tunes.

“I’ve been working on playing at fast tempos,” enthuses Scofield. “I don’t think I’m naturally a speedy player, like John McLaughlin or George Benson, who seem to play fast effortlessly. So you can listen for my mistakes, and feel better!”

—Ari Messer


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