JAZZ John Scofield / Michael Brecker RFH, London Jazz Festival

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The Independent Culture
If it's true that the guitar can be made to talk, then John Scofield's instruments have a dialect all to themselves. Whether playing electric or acoustic guitars, every single note he makes is irreducibly his own, with the whole sound echoing his larger than life personality. On stage, Scofield comes on like one of the regulars from Cheers; endearingly open yet cynical, a tough, slightly grizzled exterior belying the sentimental old fool that lies within. The toughie gets to rock out in long solos - more jagged zig-zags than straight-ahead runs - where every accent is inflected and even the intersecting beats of silence seem custom-made. On his final number, he spanked the plank so thoroughly that by the end of the solo there was simply nothing left to say, other than a big, dumb "wow" (from us, not him).

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