John Scofield looks a little like Nicol Williamson's Merlin in the film Excalibur, which might be an apt comparison for a man known as a guitar wizard. Merlin could see into the future, yet it was his fate to revisit the past. And so it is with Scofield, who gazed deeply into the jazz-fusion crystal ball early in his long career as a member of Miles Davis's early '80s band. Sure, Miles's Bitches Brew and On the Corner soak up all the critical drool, but what about the vastly underrated Decoy? At times sparse, stark, and austere, Scofield's sneaky, snaky leads worked well with Davis's understated grooves, establishing a blueprint for what's now called nü-jazz and broken beat.
Having gone through almost every possible permutation of guitar-based jazz at some point or another, Scofield returns to Decoy-like territory on Up All Night, his latest release on Verve. "You know what's amazing?" he says over the phone from his New York home. "I feel like I'm working on the same stuff I was working on 25 years ago." The new album finds Sco and his band holding forth over some punchy, lively beats, embellishing their prog-fusion soundscapes with various effects, samples, and loops from their bag of magic tricks. Up All Night isn't that far removed from Überjam, Scofield's recent collaboration with Medeski, Martin & Wood, but it refines the edges of the jam-band sound into a series of distilled, funky grooves.
Although Scofield has progressed from young lion to crafty veteran over the last three decades, he claims to be unaware of the process involved. "Sometimes, you look back and you say, 'I can't believe that was twentysomething years ago,'" he says. He's happy that he's still playing these days, even happier to be evolving as a musician. "I feel like I'm getting better at what I do. I'm more directed, more focused . . . It hasn't stopped for me."
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