John Scofield is certainly no stranger to funk. In the early 1980s he recorded and toured with the pioneer of funky jazz-rock fusion, Miles Davis, appearing on the albums Star People, Decoy, and You’re Under Arrest. And he was happy to hear deep, churning grooves come back into popular music at the close of the 20th century. “I’ve always been into funk,” says the 48-year-old Scofield “and right now the James Brown, Sly Stone, Miles Davis Bitches Brew tradition of the late ’60s and early ’70s is so alive in young bands like Deep Banana Blackout. At this particular time in history, there’s no big generation gap, for me anyway.”
Scofield brings together the elements of funk, groove, and jazz with Bump, his new recording for the Verve label. The album is a natural progression from his acclaimed 1998 collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood, A Go Go.
“I wanted to do a record of my tunes in the groove area, rather than straightahead jazz,” confirms the Ohio-bred and Connecticut-raised Scofield. “I wanted even more of a funk feel than I’ve gotten before.” To vary the feel throughout Bump’s 12 original compositions, the innovative and iconoclastic guitarist called in a number of young musicians who bring the beats and bass lines in a number of different rhythm section combinations.
Drummer Eric Kalb and percussionist Johnny Durkin come from the aforementioned Deep Banana Blackout, the New England jam band known to its devoted fans as “the Funk Mob.” Kalb hipped Scofield to bassist Dave Livolsi, and one Bump rhythm section was born. MMW’s Chris Wood teams up with Kalb on three tracks, and for the rest Scofield tapped the post-modern jazz quartet Sex Mob for bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. “Then I added Johnny Almendre from the New York salsa scene (Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria) on percussion to give the grooves a little bit more of a Latin tinge, and I wanted (keyboard sampler) Mark De Gli Antoni on the record because I love all the sounds I’ve heard him bring to Soul Coughing.”
The result of bringing all these muscians together is a deeply-textured, electric-groove record that bristles with the highly personal sense of melody and harmony that Scofield brings to his writing.
From the Crescent City second-line work-out of the set’s opener “Three Sisters,” featuring Kalb, Livolsi, Durkin, and Almendre, Bump takes a delightful left turn into “Chichon” (Spanish for “bump”), with Scherr and Wollesen underscoring Scofield’s thick, thoughtful guitar chords and rifts and De Gli Antoni generating mysterious and evocative atmospherics throughout.
As the rhythm section alignments shift, Scofield can be heard experimenting with timbre and effects, tweaking out playful snarls and squeals over the percolating beats of “Beep Beep”; capturing a space-age James Brown vibe and running with it into his own territory on ‘Kelpers’; bouncing and spiraling off the Latin undercurrents of ‘Groan Man’; and continuing to explore the sonic possibilities of his guitars- singly and overdubbed, electric and acoustic- and the musical alchemy of groove and grain on such pieces as ‘Fez’, ‘Blackout’, ‘Kilgeffen’ and the evocatively titled ‘We are not alone’.