Words: Ryan Mannix | Photos: Faraz Chaudry
He's been a regular visitor, but last Wednesday John Scofield brought an different kind of set to Evanston's SPACE. Fresh off the release of Country For Old Men, a collection of classic Country & Western tunes, he and his all-star band were committed to recreating the record, while extending solos well beyond the initial chord structures and melodies, sometimes leaving the tunes unrecognizable.
Songs like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” featured the ensemble pushing the harmonic envelope as far as they could, with both Scofield and John Medeski (a special guest for just a handful of Midwest dates) going way out.
The tunes may have been country, but the playing was thoroughly jazz inspired.
Scofield’s signature tension and release playing channelled a saxophone sound via his six strings, jumping from playing the vocal melodies of the tunes into exploratory solos, where his ideas appeared limitless.
The band whipped up a fast bebop swing throughout the night, but just as comfortably crafted dramatic readings of ballads like George Jones “Bartenders Blues”.
But the interpretations didn't stop at the dusty classics. Their rendition of the huge Shania Twain hit “Still The One” slayed. It started off with some dry but hilarious banter from Scofield, which was thankfully prevalent throughout the night.
The band picked up some steam with an almost punk-rock intro to “Red River Valley” which eventually allowed Medeski room to rip apart an organ solo and great interplay by the rhythm section of Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart, who were extremely tight all evening.
I was only able to catch the first of two shows, but I could only imagine how “the best musicians in the world”, treated the house after an incredible 90 minute warm-up.