Reviews

-- Dave Clifford

John Scofield
A Go Go
(Verve)

The problem with what's called groove jazz is that it's often more about groove than jazz. That explains a large part of the genre's appeal to late-model hippies. But the possibility of this second-wave phenomenon -- the first centering around artists like Grant Green in the '60s -- turning into a serious branch of jazz has always been there. Acts such as the Charlie Hunter Quartet, the Greyboy Allstars, and Medeski, Martin & Wood have all taken, or are in the process of taking, stabs at being jazz heavies.

But something has always gotten lost in the translation from rhythm-happy dilettantism to the level of transcendence that real jazz demands. When Green was first toying with the form, as on 1965's His Majesty King Funk, you could not escape that he was playing jazz -- the depth was always there. The groove jazz of the late '90s, meanwhile, usually has one foot on the dance floor, instead of a heart opening itself to spiritual depth.

Medeski, Martin & Wood have been some of the most frustrating offenders. Collectively and individually they are clearly gifted musicians. But sometimes not even their intricate little touches can rescue what is often a reductive groove. Finally, someone has drawn the jazz out of them. Strange that it'd be guitarist John Scofield, who's spent his recent outings screwing up other musicians' work (e.g., Joe Henderson's recent Porgy and Bess). Sure, Scofield has always had tremendous chops and a certain godhead reputation in jazz circles -- he was a member of Davis' early '80s band. But he's also been possessed with momentary lapses of taste: Sometimes it's shredding too much; other times he can't keep his feet off his effects boxes.

But on A Go Go, the combination of Scofield and MMW is perfect. Scofield's hard-attack bop lines, muted arpeggios, and half-step bends are the ideal counterpoint to MMW's rhythm work. For once, Scofield runs around without breaking anyone's toes. And keyboard whiz John Medeski uncorks the best B-3 and Wurlitzer lines since the late Johnny "Hammond" Smith.

It's hard to attribute this magic to anything beyond raw energy meshing with thoughtful improvisation. But that's when real jazz and real music come to the fore, not when a bunch of clubbers shake their asses.

-- Philip Dawdy

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