John Scofield Trio – EnRoute (2004)

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by Mark Saleski

It was at a small Japanese restaurant north of Boston (or south of Concord, New Hampshire, depending on your level of Hub-centricness). Sushi. Never had it before. You read about things like this for years. Suddenly, it’s your turn. Step right up, it’s time to end the mystery. Tuna, soy, wasabi, ginger … it was some far-east alchemy. Less than a second into the experience and my happy palate knew that something new and wonderful had been “iscovered.”

Night, under a bridge on the banks of the Kennebec river in a central Maine town. A high school adventure. My friend Andrew has a bottle of Guinness Stout. One swallow and … hmmmm … roofing tar with slight coffee notes. Good thing it was dark outside. I bet my face twisted up, as we liked to say, “somethin’ awful.”. Since I now consider the dark brew from Ireland a magical thing, I can only look back at my young self and think, “Well, maybe that’s what you get for tryin’ stuff like that at the age of sixteen!”

And speaking of magical beverages: in the living room of a close friend’s home in rural Vermont. Scotch. Laphroaig, to be specific. Mmmmm … the smokiness, the complexity. I’m hooked right from the start. Part of me is a little embarrassed for smugly looking down my nose all those years at snooty movie and television characters pouring themselves a glass of something amber from a swanky crystal decanter. Am I snooty now?

Scenario #4: It hasn’t happened yet. It involves fois gras. Sorry, I’m just not interested. My mind is closed on this one. Yes, I’ve heard all about the velvety texture and the supreme flavor. No. I’ve never been keen on liver-y things … and then there’s the ‘how’ of fois gras. Icky.

Sushi. Stout. Scotch. Fois Gras: acquired tastes. This description, obviously useful when getting at food adventures, is also handy in the world of music. Acquired tastes? There are plenty of them. Ornette Coleman. Anthony Braxton. Sun Ra. Philip Glass. Cecil Taylor. But … John Scofield? He’s just a jazz guitar player. Is he that far up on the quirk scale? Yes and no. What most folks seem to object to is the tone of his guitar. Sco’s torqued and phase-washed sound is far removed from the purity of a Jim Hall or a Wes Montgomery. Still, it’s his chosen voice, just like the funk-edged music he comes up with.

At first you might think that the food/music parallel is just too much of a stretch. But our relationship to the foods we consume and our reactions to them can be quite complex … and, like music, our preferences for a particular item can change over time. When you first heard Miles Davis, did you have a “sushi” reaction? Or was it more of a Guinness thing? The charms and complexity (of food and music) can be partially hidden, revealing themselves more fully over time. But what about the fois gras, the music to be avoided? Think of it as an opportunity. For years you’ve heard about the oddness and abstraction of a particular musician. He’s always spoken of in glowing terms. You keep wondering what, if anything, you’ve been missing. Go ahead, take a chance. You may surprise yourself.

Oh, I should probably mention this way cool John Scofield album. Yes, he of the acquired taste guitar tone put together a fantastic live record. Scofield and cohorts Steve Swallow (electric bass) and Bill Stewart (drums) played live at the Blue Note over one evening, producing some tasty single-malt-as-sound. Swallow and Stewart dance around the song structures while Scofield weaves in the particulars. Sco’s penchant for angular phrasing is on full display here. Some of the runs almost seem like they’re going to trip up and faceplant, yet somehow that never happens. One musical thought is begun … and is picked up by another player. These guys have known each other for many years and it shows. The slippery funk of closer “Over Big Top” is just too much fun.

Sensitivity? Check out the cover of Bacharach’s “Alfie”. In the liner notes, Scofield comments: “Hopefully, there are times when we sound like one big guitar player.” He was talking about the Scofield/Swallow combination, but it really does apply the the trio.

Anybody hungry yet?

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