JAZZ John Scofield / Michael Brecker RFH, London Jazz Festival
Monday 18 November 1996
The romantic side comes to the fore when he takes up an acoustic guitar for a run-through some of the tunes from his new album Quiet (Verve). With keyboard player Kevin Hays supplying the muted colours of the missing horn section, together with the excellent young saxophonist Seamus Blake, Scofield picked out lines of limpid beauty, though there's always a slightly spiky undercurrent in everything he does. He doesn't perform feats of brilliance, as some players do, without apparent effort; there's real work and concentration involved, and at first the action of the instrument seemed almost to defeat him, until at last he bent it to his will. The majesty of the playing was more than enough to let us forgive the occasional Alvin Lee gurning, and the theatrical moments when he and Blake moved in unison towards each other as a musical climax approached, for all the world like Ashford and Simpson, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, or Bono and The Edge. It was a thrilling performance: great music, a great band and a soloist who can even make you like the guitar again.
For Michael Brecker, whose quartet closed the show, I have to admit to having a critical blind-spot. He's a superb player (for many people the best saxophonist of the past 20 years or so), and he sounded right at the top of his form, opening with a perfectly articulated torrent of ideas. But for me, I can't identify a musical personality at work, as with Scofield, only a master technician with a pattern-book. And it's no good intellectualising about it: if you can't feel it, you can't fake it. Happily for Brecker, almost everyone else sees the figure in the carpet. Phil Johnson
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