Jazz: Not just a load of old funk

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John Scofield Band

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

John Scofield

A Go Go (Verve)

Pierre Boulez once said: "If you just want to be entertained, go to Andrew Lloyd Webber". But I think that's a bit cruel, personally. When it comes to entertaining art, John Scofield's A Go Go album is right up there with LA Confidential and, say, Douglas Coupland's Microserfs.

Unlike a novelist or film-maker, though, Scofield can take his idea "on the road" and develop it. And sell it, too. At Wednesday's Queen Elizabeth Hall gig, he never missed an opportunity to plug the new album, which takes much of its instrumental style and timbre from Martin, Medeski and Wood, the distinctive New York band who have put a post-modern spin on a traditional form: the jazz funk organ trio.

The live band - the leader on guitar, plus Larry Goldings (keys), James Genus (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums) - played most of the tracks from A Go Go, reproducing the album sound and spirit quite faithfully. They took advantage of a sympathetic venue and audience to have a lot of fun with Scofield's sneaky themes, with their many opportunities for rhythmic and contrapuntal cleverness. Despite plenty of virtuoso playing, the band never lost sight of the authoritative grooves specified in Martin, Medeski, Wood and Scofield's original recordings.

There was a different pattern for each tune, from the textbook funk of "Hottentot" to the hazy strum and loose snares of "Jeep on 35" (which recalls the Jeff Beck of "Wired") and the Wurlitzer electric piano vamp of the title track - which evokes the sublime pulse of the Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself" (one feel they did not tackle was the Go-Go groove associated with Washington's Trouble Funk and Chuck Brown).

The biggest surprise of the evening came from the band's radical exposition and expansion of "Deadzy". Scofield solemnly dedicated the piece to Mark- Antony Turnage, whom he cited as a great musical influence. Starting with an angular, "Pannonica"-like guitar melody over a wandering pantonal bass line, "Deadzy" developed from a quirky album miniature into a sprawling jazz guitar monster, of impressive scale and dynamics.

Scofield's young band were fine. Genus, apart from some impressive thumbing and thrumming, was especially good at maintaining the pulse throughout Stewart's exciting and melodic (yes!) drum solos, and Goldings attacked both charts and blowing sections with gusto. Their live sound was superb. And the leader took a much wider (and wilder) approach to timbre than I'd heard before, with quirky noise techniques and sound explorations produced by stamping on a small collection of effects pedals.

All the A Go Go material may trigger memories of familiar jazz and funk classics, but that's principally a tribute to Scofield's sense of history - the guitarist's tunes and improvisations always carry his musical signature, whatever the context. The triumph of the project --live and on record - is in the way Scofield has taken a "vernacular" style and said something new, without removing the simple, subtle pleasure of a dancing groove. Now that's what I call entertainment.

John L Walters

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