John Scofield Quartet
(Jazz Arena, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, May 2nd. Review by Lewis Clement)
John Scofield has a unique voice on the guitar. It’s his, and it’s matched by no other improviser. Just as Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny have created guitar sounds individual to them, Scofield has developed in his own direction. Following his instincts into RnB, Blues and Funk, his lively post-bop vocabulary can always surprise the listener.
His acid funk project Uberjam played Cheltenham’s jazz festival in 2002. This year, the eager Cheltenham audience was treated to the work of his quartet, featuring Bill Stewart on drums, Ben Street on bass and Michael Eckroth on piano and keyboards.
Scofield took to the stage in a casual manner, just counting straight in to the first tune. However, it became immediately apparent that this was going to be a tough gig for keyboardist Michael Eckroth. He played the head of the first tune on a Nord keyboard with an organ sound. But from the moment he switched to the grand piano, Eckroth and the sound crew were having to battle with the thin sound and the intonation problems of a very poor instrument.
Scofield, however, was on jubilant form. He manipulated his guitar sound endlessly, twiddling with tone and volume knobs and giving each note its own personal articulation in the style reminiscent of Miles Davis.
Highlights included a bouncy version of Parker’s Relaxing at Camarillo which featured the original piano introduction from Eckroth and exciting solos all round. There was also a beautiful rendition of I Want to Talk About You which showcased Scofield’s masterly improvisation skills .
Regardless of the poor sound, the crowd was able to forget the cold weather, and to lap up every second of this stellar band. When music is this high in quality, you fall into the trance, you cling on to every note. However, next year, maybe the Jazz Arena could be saved for the more commercial acts, so that the listening gigs by respected jazz artists can be heard properly, in more conducive settings.