Throughout his career, jazz guitarist John Scofield has been fascinated with fusion jazz, despite his frequent experiments with more traditional styles in the genre.From his beginnings in the late 1970s with the Billy Cobham/George Duke Band to his collaborations with Miles Davis in the early 1980s, and then to Medeski, Martin and Wood in the late 1990s, Scofield has demonstrated a keen interest in playing funky, rock-influenced jazz. Nowhere is his love for jazz-rock fusion more evident than on his latest release, Aberjam.
This album is a fusion of many styles, and is not just limited to fusing jazz and rock, which has been done countless times since the late 1960s. Instead, it presents a truly progressive kind of jazz that draws influences from house music and hip hop as well as rock. The majority of the songs on this album are based around subtle techno samples, which the John Scofield Band then plays over. This technique creates a funky kind of jazz that can hold a complex groove while leaving room for free improvisation at the same time.
This approach is most clearly displayed on the album’s title track, “Aberjam.” It begins with a pulsating techno beat that is soon accompanied by Scofield’s distinctively crunchy and slippery guitar licks. Rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick joins in, providing a twisting and furious rhythm followed by some snare drum rolls by drummer Adam Deitch. Bassist Jesse Murphy then adds several rapid-fire bass lines to the mix. Eventually, Scofield leads the band into a focused groove that diverges into several exploratory jams that always return to the main theme. This song exemplifies the album’s musical approach because it shows the band’s desire to play minimally-composed jazz pieces that focus on free improvisation using rock, funk, hip hop and techno textures. Most jazz song structures allow for significant improvisation, but on this album, Scofield uses the sounds and relentless energy of popular styles to pursue the jam.
While the majority of Aberjam’s songs consist of futuristic grooves led by Scofield’s fiery guitar playing and backed by shifting beats and samples, the album also contains several highly contemplative moments. For example, “Tomorrow Land” is a slower, western-flavored song with acoustic guitars that has an ominous, almost cautionary feel to it. “Snap Crackle Pop” is another typically driving, techno jazz piece except that its main riff sounds sad and remorseful. The song eventually segues to a highly emotional jam followed by Scofield repeating the somber main riff by himself to close the song. Clearly, Scofield has demonstrated his remarkable depth in his songwriting and playing on his newest album.
In Aberjam, Scofield and his band place themselves alongside younger jam bands that take similar approaches to pop-influenced jazz. Such bands include Soulive, the New Deal and Medeski, Martin and Wood. Indeed, Scofield’s band is comprised entirely of musicians in their 20s and 30s who represent this generation of musicians, building on the fusion foundations established by such artists as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in the late 1960s and 70s. Scofield’s affinity for these musicians is also apparent in the fact that John Medeski and Karl Denson, two of the most accomplished and popular members of this jam band community, guest on several tracks. With Aberjam, John Scofield proves that he is passionately devoted to refining jazz and exploring new forms of fusion alongside other 21st century jam bands.