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John Scofield - Past Present / relix

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When John Scofield's son died from cancer in 2013, the jazz guitarist did what artists have always done: channeled his grief into his art. Past Present is the result, but you don't need to know its backstory to embrace it. In fact, although the blues coats its nine tracks as a whole-as was the case with 2013's Überjam Deux-much of this new record projects joy and hope, and an unbridled freeness, as if to say that living one's life to the max is the most potent antidote to pain. For Past Present, Scofield called on two mainstays of his heralded early ‘90s quartet-saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Bill Stewart-and brought in the ubiquitous bassist Larry Grenadier to flesh out the bottom. There's a decided looseness to the group's swing, and a swing to their looseness: On numbers like the album-closing title track, the breakneck-paced "Chap Dance" and the soul-infused "Get Proud," Scofield and crew find a groove, embody it and summarily discard just enough of it to keep the surprises coming. The ballads, including "Mr. Puffy" and "Hangover," never sag or drag, and "Enjoy The Future," an album highlight, takes its own good advice: Its pace is sprightly, its demeanor is optimistic. Good for him.