John Scofield – Country For Old Men
(Impulse! Catalogue Number. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
The clue is in the title: Country For Old Men is John Scofield‘s take on country music. He may have tackled pieces of the genre before, but this is his first album dedicated to country.
Whilst he may be paying homage to some of his influences, he is by no means in thrall to them. Some of the tunes he takes pretty straight – such as the opener, George Jones’ Mr Fool – others are country through a jazz prism, and the jazz wins through.
The result can be slightly disconcerting, though not unpleasantly. With Steve Swallow on bass, Larry Goldings (organ and piano) and his regular drummer Bill Stewart, Sco makes the tunes his own. So whilst the opening chorus of Dolly Parton’s Jolene might make one hesitate, the quartet settle down into an upbeat waltz, Goldings taking a fine piano solo which grows and grows before its resolution.
Goldings’ atmospheric organ on Bartenders’ Blues emphasises the tune’s gospel roots. His piano playing helps bring out the blues on the traditional Wayfaring Stranger. On both these Scofield plays the theme with a typical country “twang”, reverting to his more usual sound for the solos.
Elsewhere, the tunes sound pure jazz. Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonely I Could Cry is barely recognisable: taken at a cracking pace, Swallow’s walking bass and Stewart’s energetic, swinging drumming pushing the tune along.
Jazz has long appropriated other genres’ material and made them its own. Most jazz standards were old show tunes; Coltrane took My Favourite Things and recast it to his needs. Hearing Scofield do the same for country is both enjoyable and illuminating.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.
Country for Old Men is released on 23rd September
Love Sco to death, but I'm skeptical. Another genre exercise, not likely to leave much of a lasting impression. I'll buy it, of course, but I'd prefer to see Sco be more adventurous, at the risk of falling flat. What's he got to lose?