Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am


Last year's Emarcy release, A Moment's Peace, found guitarist John Scofield exploring his sensitive side on an uncharacteristically laid back set of ballads and standards in the company of a piano and organ trio led by Larry Goldings.

Like every Scofield set - even 1996's all acoustic Quiet - it had its edgy moments, but there was more of his inner Jim Hall on display than at any time since the live recording of his performance backing Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker at Carnegie Hall in 1974.

A very different Scofield is on duty for In Case the World Changes Its Mind, recorded live in 2006 with his occasional sparring partners John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood, out now on Indirecto Records.

The instrumental combination is essentially the same on both albums - guitar, keyboards bass and drums - but the level of energy on the live set is of an entirely different order.

Medeski, Martin and Wood play music which has been labelled 'avant groove', meaning that they are happy to move into areas of discordance and atonality, but tend to maintain a steady rock beat.

In the early '70s, this would have been called simply 'jazz rock fusion', but the word 'fusion' has since been co-opted to describe pop music with slightly more sophisticated chords, so the label today might be misleading.

Call it what you like, much of the playing here could have come straight from the vintage jazz-rock era, and all four musicians have clearly been greatly influenced by Bitches Brew era of Miles Davis.

Scofield was, of course, a member of Miles' band in the early to mid-'80s, but when he steps on his wah wah pedal here, it is the sound of his former boss' band a decade or more earlier that he conjures up.

The association between Scofield and Medeski, Martin and Wood dates back to the guitarist's 1998 Verve album, A Go Go, for which the trio were engaged as sidemen.

Several tunes from that set are revisited here (on In Case the World Changes Its Mind) - including the title track with which both the studio and the live album open - along with Deadzy, Hottentot and a further six tunes from Out Louder, released in 2006, also on Indirecto, under the band name Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood.

In Case the World Changes Its Mind, What Now, Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing, Cachaca, Miles Behind - a fairly obvious tribute to Davis - and Hanuman are all stretched out and developed.

Completing a tempestuous and adventurous set are a fine gospel organ-backed version of Amazing Grace and the bluesy Little Walter Rides Again. The music is both jazzy enough to appeal to jazz fans and rocky enough to address that constituency. We're overdue for a visit from Scofield, and it would be good to hear this band over here.

Scofield, Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny among them are arguably the most influential jazz guitarists of the past 30 years, and all three owe a considerable debt to Hall.

Each has recorded with the old master, and the re-release by Nonesuch of the double CD set simply called Jim Hall & Pat Metheny is welcome. Out of print for some time, this 1999 collection of duets was recorded by Pat Metheny Group Productions and originally licensed to Telarc. In common with much of the rest of Metheny's back catalogue, it has now gone into the Nonesuch re-release programme.

The album documents the considerable musical empathy occasional jamming partners Hall and Metheny have developed over the years, and presents them in both live and studio recordings performing each other's compositions and a selection of standards.

Metheny is more than capable of playing 'out', as his work with Ornette Coleman attests, but here he accommodates himself to Hall's legendary good taste and lets his melodic mainstream side come to the fore. A satisfying contrast to the Scofield release and a good match to a more contemplative mood.

Take Three

Here are three more noteworthy albums featuring Hall, alongside peers and younger guitar-slinging disciples:

Live at Town Hall Volumes 1 and 2 (Music Masters Jazz, 1991): Hall in concert with a strong supporting cast of musical associates and acolytes, including guitarists Scofield, John Abercrombie, and Mick Goodrick, not to mention on other instruments Gary Burton, Mulligan and Ron Carter. A lively and varied set, with Scofield and Hall sparring particularly effectively on Coleman Hawkins' Sanctity.

Six Pack (GRP, 1992): several stellar guitarists convened for this Gary Burton project including Hall, Scofield, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kevin Eubanks, Ralph Towner and B.B. King. King and Scofield do a duet, but otherwise, Burton wisely limited the guitar representation to one player per track.

Hemispheres (Artistshare, 2008): Hall teams up with former student Bill Frisell, drummer Joey Baron and bassist Scott Colley on a double CD set of duet and small group performances. Generally funkier than the Hall and Metheny set, the quartet tracks are particularly effective.