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John Scofield: Combo 66

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John Scofield is a gentle, soulful guy. When we talk by email, he's as kind and as thoughtful as a fence-fixer in the middle of rural Vermont or Wyoming eager to provide driving directions. That's quite a contrast from the monster guitarist you hear on his recordings. But that's the beauty of John. When John and I write each other, he reminds me of guitarist Jim Hall, who also played with enormous edge and had a neighborly, relaxed demeanor when off-duty.

John's latest album, Combo 66 (Verve), is an exquisite blend of jazz sensibilities, rock emotions and country touches. Joining John on the album are Gerald Clayton on piano and organ, Vicente Archer on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. John turned 66 last December, so the 66 in Combo relates to his age. John works through nine originals on his Ibanez guitars, which produce his signature hard, ringing tone. The way John bends notes, they sound like a singing voice processed through taut electrified wire.

When I lived in Boston in the 1970s, my first floor apartment faced the street-car line on Huntington Avenue. Late at night, when car traffic disappeared and drunken students let off their last shouts, I'd listen to the stillness outside as the electric wires above the track started to ping, twitch and moan signaling the apporach of a distant streetcar. John's playing on songs like Can't Dance and I'm Sleeping In remind me of those late-night live-wire “concerts."

Other favorites on the album include King of Belgium, New Waltzo, Willa Jean and Icons at the Fair. Speaking of Boston in the 1970s, there's a jazz fusion feel on many of these songs, but such a term is too simplistic and broad for John's music. What you hear on Combo 66 is John's feverish exploration as he weaves together a wide range of music styles. His attacks range from the poetic to the furious, and they all come together neatly in a metallic narrative. His trio is gorgeous and luxuriantly supportive.

Make room on your crowded shelf, John. Looks like batch of Grammys are heading your way.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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