Überjam was the most contemporary music John Scofield had made in a richly varied, artistically meaningful and just plain enjoyable career in jazz over these last forty years; only fellow guitarist Pat Metheny can point to a more impressive body of work over that time. Like former mentor Miles Davis, Scofield has found and surrounded himself with talented young musicians a generation behind him to make himself vital to audiences too young to remember Blue Matter and too “hip” to warm up to his chamber jazz moments like Quiet or even his last release, the downtempo A Moment’s Peace.
Moment’s was the seventh album under his name since Überjam was released in 2002, which was Scofield’s unapologetically mod dance jazz record, and one of the first albums surveyed on this space by yours truly seven years ago. A return to this style has been a long time in the making, and that time has finally arrived.
Überjam Deux brings back drummer Adam Deitch and Avi Bortnick on rhythm guitar and samples — Andy Hess takes over on bass — but Bortnick as before serves as Scofield’s key partner, co-writing seven of the eleven tracks. “Boogie Stupid” great specimen of the teamwork between Sco’ and Bortnick; Bortnick invents a rare groove and Scofield adds a melodic element that puts some depth in the song, and the hard, sweaty funk of “Cracked Ice” is another such instance where the elder’s knack for a catchy chord change lifts the song above just a vehicle for jamming. The input from each of the guitarists provide the perfect planks for Scofield’s own improvising, which instigates improvisation from everyone else, making the music more jazz under the hood than what’s revealed on the surface.
And at sixty-one years old, Scofield’s signature style is as sharp, focused and so tuned in to material at hand as he ever was: he takes it slow and masterfully works the spaces between the notes on laid-back numbers such as the Big Easy-meets-Nigeria funk found on “Camelus,” the easygoing shuffle of “Scotown” and the reggae groove of “Dub Dub.” He bends notes like a blues boss on “Boogie Stupid,” rocks hard on the Afrobeat styled “Snake Dance” and flashes his jazz technique on “Endless Summer.”
“Al Green Song” is as advertised, but it’s that rhythm section that makes it so: Louis Cato, who fills in for Deitch for a few tracks, gives his best Al Jackson, Jr. impersonation as Scofield makes his guitar whines and pleads a little like the iconic singer, but remains entirely himself, too. “Torero” works from a simple two chord riff and skews toward electronica, but Scofield successfully pushes hard against any tendency it might have to sound too rote and mechanical. “Curtis Knew” is a song with two moods, both figures strong enough to stand on their own, and Sco’ unexpectedly uncorks his freaky side on the last chorus. The single cover is a rendition of The Main Ingredient’s 1974 hit “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely,” where the band taps into the original’s gut bucket groove but Deitch supplements it with some slippery beats.
John Medeski fills in some keys for many of the tracks in an unusual role for him as a reserved sideman, but his organ nonetheless adds soulful heft to numbers such as “Dub Dub” and “Al Green Song.”
Since the 70s, John Scofield has consistently countered any notion the fusion jazz was just pointless musical wanking by hotshot musicians just wanting a platform from which to show off chops. His Überjam projects not only dispel those old notions, they make the music danceable and easily embraceable at the same time. Überjam Deux is funky fun that’s not even close to being lightweight. It’s the rare sequel that lives up to the hype generated by the original installment.
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Uberjam Deux drops on July 2 via Decca/Emarcy Records.