Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Scofield plays flawless jazz

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        Those who know John Scofield only as one of the most prolific jazz guitarists of the 1970s and '80s would have been surprised to encounter the sizable youngish-hippie contingent in the crowd Sunday night for his sellout show at the 20th Century in Oakely.

        But Mr. Scofield, whose sprawling body of work as both a bandleader and sideman touches upon any number of the different styles of jazz, has been riding the jazz-funk crossover wave in recent years — the one that hippies love to dance to; the one epitomized by the success of organ trio Medeski, Martin and Wood, who've played on Mr. Scofield's albums.

        However, the guitarist and his three-piece band isn't pandering, as evidenced by this performance. He's making the dancing hippies meet him halfway. Although a couple of tunes in the two hour-plus performance were, on the surface, little more than mid-tempo funk numbers tailor-made for hippie bobbing and shuffling, every song of the night was marked by flawless musicianship, especially on the part of the bandleader and his drummer Adam Deitch.

        The pair's finest moment came seven songs in with “Jungle Fiction.” It was the first song played without a straight rock-funk beat, which presented many of the dancers with an opportunity to take a bathroom break. They missed out. Mr. Deitch wove together breakbeat-style rhythms played in assorted time signatures, somehow maintaining a continuous flow. With guitarist Avi Bortnick switching to his sampler and Mr. Scofield shifting from economical funkster to monster soloist, the lengthy song unfolded in many surprising ways to the crowd's delight.

        Mr. Scofield was born in Dayton and said he lived there until he was 6. “But I remember the Cincinnati Zoo,” he told the crowd. “Cincinnati is a great music town. King Records, Lonnie Mack, Dave Matthews — not the new guy, the old arranger.”

        Keyboardist Steve Schmidt, another local guy, opened the show, not in his familiar trio setting but as a quartet, adding saxophonist Brent Gallaher with a rhythm section of bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Eli Hludzik.

        Their four-song set got into the funk act a little bit, too, with a couple of Mr. Schmidt's compositions, “Hey Now!” and “Blues for Scheurer,” balanced off by a version of Pittsburgh organist Bill Heid's Jack McDuff tribute “Duff's Doonk” and another original, the angular “Red and Orange.”


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