John Scofield Trio at the Blue Note

From the “rock-sandwich” department:

“You know, the house is kind of small.” So said the nine-year-old boy sitting two tables away, helping his dad polish off a plate of calamari. The house? How many jazz clubs has this kid been to? The Blue Note seats about 250, in a layout very similar to Dangerfield’s. What we in the industry like to call “intimate”. NAM and I had the good fortune, having arrived more than an hour early for the first set, to be seated in the front table, inches away from where John Scofield was setting up. If I wanted to, I could have detuned his guitar during the set. But if he broke a string, it could have hit me in the eye. Which is scary, you know, because jazzers play those high-guage strings. Scofield scurried off and we patiently layed into a bottle of yellow lable, enjoying the half inch of personal space we had between us and the other club goers. To our left, a friendly man from Guelph, Ontario. (All Canadians look a little bit like Howie Mandel, don’t ask me why. It’s a particularly unnerving trait in our women.) To our right, two Japanese jazz fans, not together. The woman, young and drinking naught but coffee. The man, considerably older–he sat in front of me, ameliorating the exploding string danger–with some kind of VIP pass, tucking into a plate of pasta that smelled horrible. Keep that in mind: do not come to the Blue Note for a nice dinner. Instead, do what we did and go to Mexicana Mamma.

Eight o’clock and the trio hits the stage. Along with Scofield, we have the eminent Steve Swallow on bass and the youngster of the group, Bill Stewart (b. 1966) on the skins. Boom, they launch into a fast post-bop blues. This is awesome, I’m about three feet away from the neck of Scofield’s Ibanez. Hey what’s that? He’s playing an Ibanez. Take that, jazz posers with your twenty-thousand dollar hand-crafted instruments, Scofield plays the guitar equivalent of a Saturn. He’s playing into a nicely cranked Matchless amp. There’s a good amount of distortion. I’m into his playing right away. It’s a hard-edged sound, not jazz, not rock, and certainly not some kind of abominable “fusion”–it’s just a good electric guitar sound. Scofield bobs, weaves, jabs, pokes and stabs, a hard-driving chromatic fury. Stewart is slamming. And Swallow, no timid song-bird, is punching out a relentless bassline that inverts the music as much as it gives it foundation. I could listen to this all night.

And then the next tune starts. It’s a slow, jammy, I-IV-V-I rock construction. What a strange juxtaposition. Hmm. The pattern continues throughout the set. A hard post-bop jazz tune is followed by something rocky and jammy. On the latter tunes, Scofield uses some of the resouces of his pedal board. Mostly, he uses the Boomerang phrase sampler, which lets him build his own backing loops in real time. The set is over pretty quickly, the playing lasts just over an hour. The last tune is another jammer, with a Hendix-like main riff, and plenty of diminished scale (or “octatonic” for you fellow long-hairs out there) soloing. The trio departs. “That last tune was intense!” opines Guelph-guy. Indeed.

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