Uncle John’s Band
As the esteemed jazz guitarist that John Scofield is, his repertoire is often wide ranging, encompassing country, folk, rock, and funk. He’s never really left the genres he grew up with behind. As Scofield’s long coveted title suggests, this new double LP, which takes its name from the Grateful Dead song by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, is no different. In fact, Scofield covers early Dylan and Neil Young while also nodding to early Miles Davis, to Leonard Bernstein, and for good measure a couple of jazz standards along with his own originals, the latter of which are equally broad reaching from swing to folk to funk. This trio album has the guitarist flanked by bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Bill Stewart, both highly in-demand sidemen and leaders themselves. Archer and Stewart both recorded with Scofield on 2018’s Combo 66 alongside Gerald Clayton, and Stewart was the drummer alongside bassist Steve Swallow for Scofield’s 2004 En Route. The list of others the two have accompanied would fill up a couple of paragraphs; we’ll leave that to you, but Stewart leads another popular guitar-based trio, Goldings/Bernstein/Stewart and Archer issued his first as a leader in early 2023, Short Stories (Cellar Music) with Stewart and Clayton. So, this is a deeply experienced and collaborative trio with shared history.
If any artist were to attract listeners of other genres to jazz, Scofield is certainly an ideal candidate. He has long been a favorite on the jam band circuit, having guested with several bands and funk bands too. So, since improvisation is the jazz version of rock jamming, we get that in spades as the guitarist indicates that every track here was selected with that in mind. And, regarding the title track, although Scofield does not possess a history of Dead songs in his catalog, he has performed the titular track with Phil Lesh & Friends many times, though this take is likely as freewheeling as any.
The album kicks off with Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Scofield electing to take The Byrds’ version of the tune that impacted him as a early teenage kid growing up in Fairfield County, CT. Although the tune begins in meandering fashion, much like an Indian raga, the melody and choruses soon take shape before giving way to free from stylings, including an impressive turn from Archer. On Young’s “Old Man,” which Scofield casually says he finds himself relating to in the liner notes, Archer takes the long intro, and he and the bassist stretch this 6-bar figure into dazzling solos throughout the piece with Stewart keeping the groove with especially tasteful cymbal flourishes. Miles Davis’ “Budo,” a tune borrowed from Bud Powell that the trumpeter modified, traces to Birth of the Cool but his rendering owes to the quintet, not the nonet version.
The Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim “Somewhere” from West Side Story is another impressionable tune for the then 11-year-old Scofield who still holds it dearly. The standard “Stairway to the Stars” is another that Scofield just knows intuitively, here gravitating toward Dexter Gordon’s version while the bop classic “Ray’s Idea” also traces to Miles, with the trio here slowing it down, expressing the melody in unison.
Scofield penned seven originals, beginning with “How Deep,” guitar and drums trading lines to Archer’s sturdy walking bassline. It’s a basic 32-bar form with tidy, brief statements from the guitarist, ultimately highlighting Stewart’s crisp kit work. Stewart shows his in the pocket prowess, a drummer’s favorite, emphasizing the eighth note in “TV Band” while “Back in Time” has the bass-rhythm tandem setting a mid-tempo pace for the folkloric, highly melodic “Back in Time.” Scofield, who is as masterful with pedals as any guitarist this writer has witnessed, plays with clean, crisp, seemingly pedals free approach often resulting in a bell-like resonating tone throughout. This tune is a great example of the unhurried stance of the trio, that as Scofield notes “can go anywhere.” “Nothing is Forever” is a joyous, celebratory romp, a celebration of the brief life of Scofield’s son, Evan, who tragically passed after a two-year battle with sarcoma, at the young age of 26.
“The Girlfriend Chord” begins Disc 2, a tune that Scofield used to play with Steve Swallow but never recorded. At the time he simply dubbed it “Cmajor7#5,” the nickname to the chord given by violinist Mark Feldman and immediately recognized by his trio mates as soon as Scofield struck it. “Mo Green” is much like the famous “Green Tea” from Scofield’s 1997 A Go Go, one that his then trio of Swallow and Stewart often performed live. While there’s traces of syncopation in the tune, his “Mask” finds that sweet spot between swing and funk with Stewart laying back a bit on the beat.
Sometimes the word ‘improvisation’ scares off the non-jazz types, but Scofield’s following among the jam band crowd will likely attract those listeners too. Whatever one’s preference, there’s no denying the talent and tight interplay of this trio and will likely result in this being one of Scofield’s strongest entries in his massive catalog.
- Jim Hynes
Help Support Making a Scene
Your Support helps us pay for our server and allows us to continue to bring you the best coverage for the Indie Artists and the fans that Love them!
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly