John Scofield – Works For Me

John Scofield Works For Me
John Scofield
(Verve – 2001)
by Phyllis A. Lodge

Scofield’s chosen title, Works for Me, is a nice touch. His warm musical approach is also steely, sharp and precisioned. Works for Me communicates to me a series of original, gently varying mood pieces, encompassing a wellspring of a vast spectrum of pleasant musings. Once I glimpsed the spirit of the work, I experienced a host of delicate images and, yes visions.

I’ll Catch You. A thin man with averted gaze, lingering beside a streetlamp; a figure leaning against a tree, a hat obscuring his eyes. An expressionless woman in dark sunglasses, riding the subway. The quiet pursuit of firm resolve and gentle intent. Waiting… The first of a series of sketches beautifully executed by highly compatible, sensitive artists.

To my way of hearing, Not You Again has the same changes as, There Will Never Be Another You. This practice, a carryover from the bebop era, frequently opens a classic piece up to more expansive interpretations. Listen… The tantalizing solos by Garret and Smilin Billy Higgins are pure enjoyment.

Big J is a nice, cool walk alongside this impressive “personality”. We try to keep pace as we enjoy the company. The number is quite laid-back, although ‘Smilin’ Billy starts ‘playing around’, creating this exciting musical overlay. Garrett and Scofield close the number with an intriguing conversation, providing the listener with a delightful feel of harmless eavesdropping.

In Loose Canon, Garrett swells an introduction with a controlled train-sounding screech. The piece echoes locomotion, and in fact, fairly travels. Scofield christened it Loose Canon, but locomotive “works for me” (Smile). The musicians truly work this one. Garret spins a hypnotic solo and relinquishes his grip on the feeling to ‘Smilin’ Billy who elusively shuffles it like an invisible card deck. Great number.

Next, Scofield deliberately paints a love ballad within the same gentle spirit we have experienced on this CD. Love You Long Time. waltzes, bossas, and drifts softly. In the gentle spirit of this CD, the musicians touch the romantic by handling it lightly.

Hive buzzes around you and flies in unpredictable patterns and sounds. Yet in its unorthodox theme, there’s order. It moves into a deeply swinging tune, with the zigzag patterns of atypical intervals skirting lightly on top. It’s busy.

Heel to Toe opens with bassist Christian McBride digging his heels into the number with a powerful, down and doin’-it loping line before the others step right in and dance along. To use a favorite phrase of mine, this number is one cut above gutbucket, though well polished.

Do I Crazy? What does it mean? Hmmm. What do I hear? A sprightly dance of free spirits either in the park, on a dance floor, or down the middle of a deserted city street after all the bars have closed. They’re all of the same accord, but are grooving independently. ‘Smilin’ Billy hops in and out of the other soloists’ stories with pure abandon. And Mehldau unleashes this piano solo like someone playing with fire. All allow one another his beautiful madness.

Mrs. Scofied’s Waltz is a soft, folksy, introspective number. Scofield’s guitar solo is enveloping. It has a sufficient melancholy edge to invoke a wistful feeling in the pit of the stomach. Yet, it maintains its serenity, sensitively painted by Mehldu’s piano solo. I hear this as twilight or total darkness listening.

Six and Eight shifts into another searching piece with Monk-type undertones. It induced a dream state for me, with the musicians flashing gently from the back to the foreground like musical LSD. A delightfully stated piano solo turned duet between the pianist and bassist. This beautifully elusive tune is pure dream music. .

Freepie moves in like a phantom from the horizon and zooms in from microscopic to gargantuan in seconds. The sound tapers into a montage of conversation between the musicians. It is actually a group composition, and it rises like fireworks before quickly dissipating. And you are left standing and staring at the horizon, just waiting ….

[In closing I must add that this review appears on the heels of the recent passing of drumming legend, (Smilin’) Billy Higgins. I am entirely grateful to Scofield for this opportunity of Higgins, because we get some impromptu parting expression from this long-standing genius within the jazz tradition.]

Guitarist John Scofield is a brand new experience for me. It is a tremendous learning experience to review an artist without prior knowledge of his (or her) work. For me it became a gratifying exercise make a new musical friend and embrace that artist’s approach to this timeless art form in order that I may share it with other listeners. Hop on. It’s a nice ride in a reliable vehicle. It clearly works for John, and it works for me. Enjoy.