Scofield’s ‘jam’ hits all the right notes

Trip-hop beats, hip-hop samples, four hands worth of guitar, a bald jazz sage at the head of a flaming carpet ride called the uberjam – that’s German for “big jam.” The sage, of course, is John Scofield. The hands, his. Uberjam is his latest release. And the show is coming to North Adams’ very own MASS MoCA on Friday, April 25th. Scofield will appear with his band (Jesse Murphy, bass; Adam Deitch, drums; Avi Bortnick, rhythm/acoustic guitar and samples) to rock the uberjam in the main concert hall only yards from where, several years before, the football-field-length Uberorgan blared continuously, at intervals, according to a scrolling electronic score. No one ever claimed that the Uberorgan could take its listeners “on a modern journey of forward-thinking compositions and captivating improvisations.” The downside to the Uberjam is that it has no large cardboard bells for you to stick your head into. The upside is that, instead, the music gets in your head.

As part of the Williamstown Jazz Festival, Scofield’s appearance marks a turn away from the conventional for our annual celebration of all things jazz. In years past, such artists as Regina Carter and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played to packed houses of jazz lovers. Their approach, while influenced by the modern evolution of jazz, harkens back to what some see as the by-gone era of jazz greatness, be that the era of the big band or bebop, New Orleans or modal.

And rarely were these artists celebrated by their fans in clouds of smoke or portrayed in posters as bald and many-armed. But Scofield has made a career of crossing and re-crossing the invisible line between jazz, on the one hand, and all other types of music (rock, hip-hop, R&B, dance, even classical) on the other.

As a child growing up in suburban Connecticut, Schofield began playing rock and blues guitar at age 11. He took an ardent interest in jazz when a teacher turned him on to guitar greats Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Pat Martino. After attending the Berklee College of Music, Scofield burst onto the scene, playing with a wide variety of bandleaders and musicians including Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Gerry Mulligan, McCoy Tyner, Jim Hall and Gary Burton. In 1982, he began a fruitful three-and-a-half year stint touring with the erstwhile and ever-hoarse Miles Davis.

Scofield has also recorded as a bandleader since the late ’70s, “establishing himself,” his bio reads, “as an influential and innovative player and composer.” His composing and playing style recalls the greats of jazz while moving beyond, into the foggy nether regions of improvisational and – one hesitates to say – post-modern musical expression. Currently, Scofield appears with such avant-jazz players as Bill Frisell, Medeski, Martin & Wood and Government Mule. So get relaxed, take it all in, and come to the show.

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