John Scofield : Uncle John’s Band Review
John Scofield’s Uncle John’s Band: Cohesiveness Conversations in Today’s Jazz
John Scofield is back with his release titled, Uncle John’s Band (titled after the Grateful Dead’s 1970 folk rock song); Scofield paints a vibrant spectrum of sounds, upholding his inimitable spirit while maintaining a sharp focus and a distinct sense of identity. To fully appreciate the artistic feat Scofield brings to Uncle John’s Band, one must remember the weight of Scofield’s prior achievements and the lineage of his partnerships with drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Vicente Archer. Scofield has a long, storied history with Stewart, beginning in 1991. His relationship with Archer similarly has many crossing paths; the last album featuring the trio was Combo 66, released on 28 September 2018. The combo was keyboardist Gerald Clayton, Archer, and Stewart. Uncle John’s Band is set against the backdrop of ECM Records, a label renowned for nurturing exceptional jazz talents. The chemistry of these seasoned musicians is fully realized in this expansive 14-track offering that spans multiple genres—jazz, funk, folk, and more. It brings a blend of cover tracks, ranging from Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the Miles Davis classic “Budo,” along with Scofield’s own ingenious compositions.
The modern jazz iteration of Bob Dylan’s folk classic, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” is a clever journey through sonic textures. Scofield, leading the charge, employs a looped chordal groundwork for the intro over which he dispenses his modal melodic thesis, ornamented with a relaxed flair. This provides a playground for Archer and Stewart, who inject their idiosyncratic auras. Stewart’s drumming is an exercise in intricate subtlety; it lays down the groove yet constantly interacts with Scofield’s melodic forays; listen to the 5m 38s mark until the end of Scofield’s solo. What’s particularly riveting is Scofield’s climactic guitar solo—a cascade of hammer-ons and pull-offs that winds its way through the modal intervallic shifts, which starts around the 5m mark. Archer, entirely in sync, tails Scofield from the modal nucleus to every colored terminus and back; a fine example starts at 6:08. The rendition shapeshifts through modern jazz, funk, and fusion elements, presenting a polyglot journey of sound.
“TV Band” is an exemplary representation of the jazz-influenced funk that can be found throughout the project, complete with bluesy undertones. Here, Scofield employs an amalgam of single-note runs interspersed with chordal responses, thus engendering a rich call-and-response narrative. One can hear an example of this starting at 1m 43. Stewart’s drumming, brimming with dynamism, imparts a rhythmic foundation so fluid you can’t help but feel its pulse rather than simply hear it. The solo section from Stewart, starting at 3m 34s, is a melodious flow of rhythmic tension and release, dynamically supported by Archer and Scofield. As the track vamps towards the end, starting around the 5m mark, Scofield adds a dash of distortion, effortlessly straddling the line between cool jazz articulations and raw bluesy figures enriched with contemporary accents.
A relaxed approach to the bebop classic, “Ray’s Idea,” offers listeners a stripped-down, comfortable pace through the iconic rhythm changes form. Scofield and Archer initiate the tune in a tutti fashion, outlining the melody in a harmonically uncluttered manner. Scofield’s improvisational journey here is a blend of monophonic and chordal textures, beginning at 1m 57s. Archer, too, showcases his deft articulation of the changes, grounded in a swinging eighth-note feel, 2m 17s. But it’s Stewart’s drumming that lends the tune a timeless groove. His capability to maintain a deep pocket in this bebop milieu—as he does in funkier setups—attests to his musical versatility. Stewart’s mastery is not confined to specific moments; instead, his rhythmic foundation is a consistent driving force throughout the entire track, adding a layer of complexity and cohesiveness.
In the album’s title track, “Uncle John’s Band,” Scofield’s handling of the Grateful Dead classic is infused with elements of modern jazz, blues, folk, and fusion. His improvised solo, starting at 2m 16s, exhibits a diverse vocabulary that oscillates between single-note lines and lush chordal voicings. Archer and Stewart maintain an auditory clarity as they follow Scofield’s storied improvisation, beginning at 3m 35s. They collaboratively manipulate time and pulse, building toward intricate dynamic highs starting at 4m 04s. The result is an elegant transmutation of a folk-rock staple into a jazz idiom, evidencing the trio’s collective mastery. This multifaceted approach to a well-known classic serves as a testament to the group’s ability to transcend genres, leaving the listener in a state of awe and appreciation.
In conclusion, Uncle John’s Band is an auditory voyage that serves as both a technical showcase and an emotional journey. The album deftly weaves through the very fabrics of jazz, funk, folk, and more, all expertly stitched together by Scofield and his collaborators, Stewart and Archer. Showcasing the trio’s dexterity in crossing stylistic boundaries, the album enriches its collective sound through individual textures, making it greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a record that will leave an enduring impression on listeners with its artistic vision and collaborative spirit, destined to enthrall jazz fans and beyond.
Uncle John’s Band
October 13, 2023