John Scofield electric guitar and looper
Recorded August 2021
Top Story Studio, Katonah, NY
Engineer: Tyler McDiarmid
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Cover photo: Luciano Rossetti
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: May 6, 2022
John Scofield’s latest for ECM features a set of solo guitar tunes backed by a looper, which he uses to establish progressions and contexts for his adroit picking. This long-awaited project, one that fans thought might never come, offers plenty of variety to meet that expectation. It all begins with a second-nature take on Keith Jarrett’s “Coral.” Launching into an improvisational spirit from the first breath and shifting into the melody only at the end, this interpretation features all of Scofield’s hallmarks: forthright expression, clear lines, and enough rough edges to guarantee authenticity. This is edible music.
Among all that follows, my ears are drawn immediately to Scofield’s originals. From the finely sculpted “Honest I Do” and the more whimsical “Since You Asked” to the emotionally charged “Mrs. Scofield’s Waltz,” he proves an uncanny ability to unravel moments of life into stories with beginnings, middles, and endings. The bluesy “Elder Dance” is a highlight. Scofield’s description says it all: “I picture older people (like me) doing a kind of lindy hop. I can picture it but I can’t do it.” This and the vibrant “Trance du Jour” make their recorded debut. Both are genuine pleasures to hear.
“It Could Happen to You” is the first among a handful of jazz standards. While recognizable from the start, it adds Scofield’s idiosyncratic touches, by turns fluid and angular. Even “Danny Boy” feels spontaneous in his brilliant hands, while the prison song “Junco Partner” bows its head in honor of the wrongfully incarcerated. Whereas “My Old Flame” and Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” favor message over medium, others, like “There Will Never Be Another You,” add new levels of interest to the tried and true. We end with the Hank Williams classic, “You Win Again,” speaking in the language of experience.
Despite my appreciation for all that transpires here, this isn’t my favorite of ECM’s 2022 releases. Scofield is, of course, a master who could sound like no one but himself. And while I dig the easygoing, unrushed quality of the playing, I find relatively little to chew on in the standards. On the other hand, there’s plenty to enjoy in Scofield’s originals, which gift these ears with fresh, honest sounds. I just wish we’d been given nothing but, especially for a self-titled record from an artist whose contributions to the art of jazz are every bit as flavorful as the old chestnuts he has roasted here. Many will disagree with this assessment, so don’t let me discourage you from enjoying an album that might very well grow more than show.