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On this album of smartly chosen songs, John Scofield could soundtrack the rest of your life / THE BIG TAKE OVER

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With a career spanning over half a century, marked by influential collaborations with jazz greats like Miles Davis and Joe Henderson as well as several dozen genre-bending leader dates, it’s all the more striking that this is in fact John Scofield’s first ever guitar-solo recording. The long wait, however, pays off, as John is able to benefit from his decades of experience and charts an intimate path through the styles and idioms he has traversed up until today. He is not entirely all on his own on this endeavour though: the guitarist enters into dialogues with himself, soloing to his own tasteful chordal and rhythmic accompaniment via loop machine. 

“I think that there’s a delicateness that I have acquired from playing at home alone”, Scofield has recently said in conversation with The Boston Herald. “I am so used to playing with a slamming band […] and there’s a certain musicality to that. That went away and was replaced by this more delicate approach of pinpointing the beauty of the strings. When I play solo, I make these little guitar loops on the fly, […] and it’s almost like I’m playing with another person.”

Not uncommon for self-titled recordings, a deeper meaning can be read into choosing the album name John Scofield, as John digs deep into the past, all the way back to his roots and the heroes of his youth. The result is a balanced and thorough picture of the musician, tying together the music that shaped him and that he has subsequently continued to influence and forge himself. 

John’s main emphasis throughout the years, however, has remained his deep commitment to the jazz tradition, and here he grabs a number of standards off the rack and gives them unique interpretations. His comments on each song are included in the liner notes accompanying this release, where he reveals his fondness for Kenny Dorham’s take on “It Could Happen to You”. John’s own version is a swinging affair with a deft key-change halfway through. He also reminisces about his first recording date, backing up Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker on “There Will Never Be Another You” and his pass at the song proves a nimble and compact adventure. An especially minimalist take on the Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow-penned “My Old Flame” follows – John turns off the loop machine for this one.

The guitarist has filled a fair share of albums with his own writing – its tuneful qualities and inviting singability having the same timeless character as jazz standards. “I never think about ideas when I write music. Instrumental music exists in a different part of your brain, it’s not about an idea that can be described with language or visually. Music exists in its own place”, John reflects.

His compositions are among the highlights of this set: Scofield renders “Honest I Do”, which he originally wrote and recorded in 1991, into a soulful ballad, explored with experimental guitar tones. “Mrs. Scofield’s Waltz” is dedicated to his wife, who in turn gave “Since You Asked”, a song John initially recorded with Joe Lovano in 1990, its name. “More of a feeling than an actual composition” – in the words the guitarist – “Trance Du Hour” is his “version of 60’s jazz à la Coltrane”.  It maintains the same high level of energy as his blues “Elder Dance” does.

Along with traditionals “Danny Boy” and “Junco Partner”, John delivers a haunting and somewhat oblique interpretation of Keith Jarrett’s “Coral” – Scofield’s version doesn’t introduce the song’s main theme until the very end. They complete this graceful solo venture, recorded in Katonah, New York in August 2021.

THE BIG TAKE OVER'S Michael Toland writes….Though he’s been recording albums under his own name since 1978 (and as a sideman since 1974), guitarist John Scofield, astonishingly, has never recorded an album of unaccompanied guitar. Though perhaps “unaccompanied” is not quite the correct word for his first self-titled LP – thanks to the use of a looper, Scofield accompanies himself on these thirteen tracks. Though jazz roots every growth from his musical tree, the axeman often explores different branches, from standards to country music to rock & roll. Thus Scofield roams the landscape via Buddy Holly (“Not Fade Away”), Hank Williams (“You Win Again”), folk traditionalism (“Junco Partner,” “Danny Boy”), the standard book (“There Will Never Be Another You,” “My Old Flame,” “It Could Happen to You”), his peers (Keith Jarrett’s “Coral”), and his own pen (“Honest I Do,” “Elder Dance,” “Since You Asked”). A player of remarkable sensitivity, Scofield always pays close attention to the melody so that even his improvisations still communicate the song’s original intentions. That’s arguably an easy balancing act for him to perform, as he clearly knows and loves each of these tunes like the scuffs on his guitar case, and the relaxed manner in which he plays them evokes a living room atmosphere that’s as comfortable and intimate as a hug from your favorite parent. An album of smartly chosen songs given lovely portrayals, John Scofield could soundtrack your next night in as easily as it could the rest of your life.