JOHN SCOFIELD - PAST PRESENT
John Scofield updates his early-’90s quartet with drummer Bill Stewart and saxophonist Joe Lovano by recruiting bassist Larry Grenadier for his fetching, appropriately titled impulse! debut, Past Present. Between 1990 and 1992, the celebrated guitarist released three well-received discs – Meant to Be, Time on My Hands and What We Do – for the Blue Note label as the John Scofield Quartet. On those records, either Marc Johnson or Dennis Irwin played bass. Nevertheless, Grenadier also has history playing with Scofielld; he toured with Scofield in support of the 1996 disc, Quiet.
The nine exciting tunes Scofield penned on Past Present also reflects his philosophy on playing jazz music. He stresses the importance of being knowledgeable of the music’s deep, complex roots while simultaneously being spontaneous and in the moment while performing it. For an artist with such a multifaceted discography as Scofield’s, getting to the root of jazz means channeling the blues, as demonstrated on the disc’s closing, titled-track.
Buoyed by Grenadier’s ebullient, recurring bass line and Stewart’s delicate swing, Scofield describes “Past Present” as “futuristic blues,” on which he and Lovano craft unison melodies before the two separate then intertwine invigorating improvisations. In Scofield’s estimation, “Past Present” sums up the whole disc.
In addition to Scofield’s meditation on a William Faulkner quote: “the past is never dead. It’s not even past,” – from the 1951 book Requiem for a Nun – the disc’s title gains even more poignancy and thematic heft from Scofield’s enduring love for his son, Evan, who passed away in 2013 after a battle with cancer. “There are people in the past who are really still alive for us – like my son, Evan,” Scofield says. “He’s in the past but he’s still with me right now.”
Scofield emphasizes that point on three tunes that touch upon Evan’s legacy. Two songs – “Get Proud” and “Enjoy the Future!” – are titled after some of Evan’s catchphrases. The former is a strutting, bluesy number, steered by Stewart’s implied boogaloo shuffle, on which Scofield’s rough-hewn guitar lines and comping mesh with Lovano’s brawny tenor saxophone passages. Like the title suggests, the latter tune evokes a bright optimism as Scofield and Lovano develop billowing melodic lines that swirl around each other while the rhythm section powers them with a snazzy, pneumatic swing.
Evan’s spirit also informs the introspective, mid-tempo ballad, “Mr. Puffy,” which was a nickname Scofield gave him to help lift his spirits when he was undergoing chemotherapy. The quartet hints at the physical transformative effects the chemotherapy had on Evan by the song’s breezy A section progress into a more bristling B section.
Scofield’s love for R&B and blues tends to inform all of his discs regarding of idiomatic styling. After all, his first guitar hero was the legendary B.B. King, who strummed very vocal-like single-note melodies. Singable melodies and infectious rhythms shine on the soul-jazz opener, “Slinky,” on which the guitar tickles an instantly catchy riff before Stewart underscores it with a supple 5/4 groove that suggests New Orleans’ second-line rhythm. Grenadier propels the momentum with a loping blues bass line while Scofield and Lovano trade soulful licks and tasty solos.
Past Present also highlights Scofield’s love for country music on the whimsical “Chap Dance,” which evokes both the wide-eyed Americana compositions of Aaron Copeland and the hoedown sophistication of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics. Scofield says that the song’s exuberant opening melody and spry rhythmic pulse remind him of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1943 Broadway musical, Oklahoma!, particularly the scenes with the cowboys dancing in chaps and vests.
In spite of its suggestive title, “Hangover” is lyrical waltz on which Scofield and Lovano weave comely melodies atop of the rhythm section’s gentle thrust. Originally written with lyrics penned by Scofield’s wife, Susan, the song’s theme actually deals with romance rather substance abuse.
Scofield originally penned the sanguine melody of “Museum” for promotional use by a hometown museum where Scofield curated a successful music series for seven years. The guitarist liked the melody so much that he developed it into an intricate jazz excursion that contains a tricky in-between rhythm that Scofield argues could not have been well realized by any other rhythm section.
The intriguing “Season Creep” is yet another blues – this time dedicated to climate change. Scofield composed the slow, shuffling ditty in February 2013 when he noticed warm, spring-like temperatures were slowing creeping into a month, commonly noted for being freezing.
As Scofield continues to solidify his reputation as one of modern jazz’s most dynamic guitarists, history will reveal Past Present as an integral chapter in his expansive discography – one that reflects him being more reverential than referential to his personal and professional past while remaining fresh and ever-present.
It’s been 40 years of professional recording underneath his belt, John Scofield is one of the most distinctive and versatile modern jazz guitarists; his capacity to play in fusion, funk, blues, bebop, country, drum-n-bass, avant-garde and pop settings while retaining his distinctive voice is peerless. In addition to leading numerous ensembles and recording more than three dozen albums as a leader, Scofield has played with a “who’s who” of jazz greats that include Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, George Duke, Joe Henderson, Billy Cobham and Herbie Hancock, among others. In 1998, the Montreal International Jazz Festival gave Scofield its prestigious “Miles Davis Award.” John Scofield was also awarded Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.
CHAP DANCE 5:18
SEASON CREEP 4:34
GET PROUD 5:18
ENJOY THE FUTURE! 5:21
Mr. PUFFY 5:00
PAST PRESENT 6:01
Bonus tracks available on request
1. Weird Hands 5:30
2. Pedals Out 5:16
All songs written by John Scofield
John Scofield (guitar); Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone); Larry Grenadier (double bass); Bill Stewart (drums)
Recorded on March 16 and 17 2015 at The Carriage House Studios, Stamford, Connecticut.