The John Scofield Band

Überjam (Verve)

Don't let the title of guitarist John Scofield's latest album fool you.

Ditto for the hallucinogenic, Haight-Ashbury-inspired cover art. This is not your typical jam band -- no refried faux funk, aimless Dead-influenced noodling or ostentatious chops-mongering here. Just as he did on 1997's A Go-Go (featuring Medeski Martin & Wood), Scofield shows groove-jazz is far from a dead-end proposition, expanding his funk palette to include things like drum and bass, dub, and hip-hop.

This isn't "Sco does electro," however; there are still plenty of the elliptical heads, inside-out solo lines, and musing, fusionoid melodies that are his trademark. But with groove music, it's all in the foundation, and the veteran jazzman has recruited some familiar and not-so-familiar names to help pour some fresh concrete.

Familiar names first: sax player Karl Denson (Greyboy Allstars) and keyboardist John Medeski. Medeski sits in on four tracks, adding a twisted solo on the disc opening, "Acidhead." Denson, meanwhile, adds a tasty octave-divided solo to the vaguely Weather Reportish "Polo Towers." Guitarist/sampling artist Avi Bortnick (formerly of Gainesville's What it Is) is the nucleus of the current band, which includes bass player Jesse Murphy and sometime-Average White Band-drummer Adam Deitch. His sampling and looping skill adds timbres to tunes like the dub-influenced, sitar-laced "Acidhead," providing rhythmic counterpoint to the propulsive "Snap Crackle Pop," and creating a hornet's nest of sound underneath Sco's guitar on "Lucky for Her." His influence coaxes the relatively low-tech Scofield into sound-effects territory, as on "Ideofunk"'s processed guitar sounds.

Not all the groove forays work -- "I Brake 4 Monster Booty" is a run-of-the-mill groove, decorated with a run-of-the-mill rap by Deitch. And Bortnick's straight rhythm guitar playing often seems strangely stiff, sticking to the tried-and-true chicken-scratch/wah-wah riffs favored by funk revisionists the world over. But through it all Scofield manages to burn, ripping off fleet guitar lines on "Jungle Fiction" and the James Brown-flavored "Offspring," bearing down Jeff Beck-style on "Polo Towers." Even though he can ride a vamp like few other jazz guitarists of his generation, Scofield's sensibility even more so than his playing has kept his albums fresh. Coming from the late-Sixties, early-Seventies heyday of rock and jazz marriages, his spirit has always lent itself to the concept of fusion. By keeping his ears open to new sounds, Scofield continues to come up with intriguing new alloys.

 
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