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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Scofield Fusion Rocks Vancouver

    Dan Keeton

    The John Scofield Band provides a kind of jazz-funk sound that's been around for a while and maintains its popularity in a genre that has long been indefinable. Its leader is an able guitarist, whose rapid explorations on the fret board emerge as a throaty, driving syncopation that has people dancing in the aisles.

    Actually, there was little of that activity when the Scofield Band played The Centre as part of the DuMaurier International Jazz Festival in Vancouver June 27. Perhaps it was the staidness of the venue – you're supposed to sit and be entertained at the former Ford Centre, and not be part of the action. Which is too bad, because this quartet makes music for movement. As for sitting and listening – well, that depends on what's your cup of meat.

    Scofield, whose credits include three years with Miles Davis, was accompanied by Andy Hess (electric bass), Avi Bortnick (guitar, sampler and vocals) and Adam Deitch (drums and vocals). When the leader wasn't dominating the proceedings, Bortnik's punchy rhythm guitar with electronic squeaks and growls on the synthesizer helped define the band's sound.  As such, it's a blend that occupies a niche where funk meets electronic avante garde.

    And it has its fans. While a steady trickle of early leavers began about three-quarters of an hour into the set, a hardcore fandom kept up a steady roar of approval after each number. These folks were a bit reminiscent of the air-punchers at a rock concert, and the allusion isn't casual. The Scofield Band's driving sound is more suggestive of rock than of jazz, as is the group's instrumental lineup.

    Yet like much contemporary jazz the compositions performed that night – Scofield himself refers to the selections as "jams," though they're tight and sound rehearsed – were basically undifferentiated. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part, the evening's offerings sounded like one piece interrupted by occasional microphone patter.

    We might wonder at this, and consider where modern compositions find their inspiration. Jazz, like blues, gospel, string band and other related genres, grew out of the hard lives of America's marginalized and persecuted. It might be trite to link good music with bad times; less of a simplification might be to say that some music today reflects a surface culture of the sensational. If it has a beat, it works.

    Most of the personnel at the concert appear on Scofield's latest CD, überjam. Scofield is quoted as saying, "the music on überjam may be the kind of music I feel most comfortable with. I started with jazz-rock 30 years ago and the great thing about this music is that it's still evolving...I have to say that out of all the albums I've made, I think this is the one that Miles would have enjoyed the most."

    Davis' style was always changing, and it's quite possible he'd like the funky sound offered by the current incarnation of the Scofield Band. Those who think they might like that sound as heard on stage during the Jazz Festival can try überjam on for size, and see if it fits.

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