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Scofield article in Ottawa Citizen - reminder: Casino Hull this Saturday


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From one genius to another

John Scofield jumped at the chance to do a musical tribute to Ray Charles. Delving deep into Charles's material, which he brings to Ottawa Saturday, left him with an even greater appreciation of the man, Bruce Ward writes.

Bruce Ward

The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

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CREDIT: David Royal, The Associated Press (John Scofield, whose band will performs a tribute to Ray Charles at Casino du Lac-Leamy Saturday, was drawn to the direct, emotional intensity of Charles's music.)

Funny thing about tribute albums. Most of 'em show how much better the original performer was than the musicians doing the tribute.

So let's get the high praise out of the way from the jump: That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles is so fine and funky, it makes a statement all its own. It adds to Ray's lustre, and underscores his genius. You can judge for yourself when Scofield's band performs the Charles tribute at Casino du Lac-Leamy Saturday, as part of the Ottawa Jazz Festival's 25th anniversary concert series.

"If I had been a singer or piano player, I would never have done this," Scofield is saying down the phone from his New York City area home. "But being a jazz guitarist, it offered a chance to take a different approach to all these songs."

Scofield is not merely a jazz guitarist. He's part of the triumvirate of terrific jazz guitarists now on the scene, along with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. If you like labels, Scofield's music can generally be slotted in the post-bop landscape somewhere between fusion and soul jazz. He has played with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.

Although his jazz credentials are impeccable, he was drawn to the emotional intensity of Charles's material.

"That's something about Ray's music -- it covers so many genres. It was folkloric in that it's bluesy, so that invites interpretation. It was simple music, but it was great because of Ray's performance of the tune. So we could really do them a bunch of different ways."

When the label Verve suggested a Charles tribute, Scofield, 53, jumped at the chance. "It was like a light bulb going off, and it really resonated with me. Ray is a combination of jazz and soul, and that's what I've been into, too. When I was very young, Ray was top of the pops. He was a No. 1 artist in the early 1960s. When I was just getting into music, Ray was all over the place. He was part of my introduction to black music."

The album was produced by Steve Jordan, who also plays drums. "He's been producing lots of rootsy records, and I've really gotten into his R&B stuff, so he seemed perfect for it."

To choose the songs, Scofield pretty much listened to Charles's entire output over 50 years or so of recording. "When something struck me, I would write down the name of the tune. I think we ended up with about 20, then we had to find what was right for the singers."

Scofield reached out to Dr. John, Mavis Staples and Aaron Neville, all of whom turn in fine performances. But it's rocker John Mayer who, besides trading licks with Scofield, delivers a surprisingly fine version of I Don't Need No Doctor. "He sang his ass off," Scofield says with a laugh. "I knew he knew about the blues because I heard a record where he played great blues guitar. But his singing, I didn't know it would be so ballsy."

Mavis's singing is a marvel. "She has got so much happening musically. ... When she snaps her fingers in time, the groove is stronger than anybody in the band. She can push the band with her snaps.

"And Dr. John is another one of my idols. A lot of people are going around being, you know, New Orleans. But he really did hang with the greats of the bygone era. ... What it comes down to is he's just a great musician. He's sensitive to all the nuances of the music."

The album is rounded out with Willie Weeks on bass and Larry Goldings on Hammond B3 organ. Scofield himself lays back a little in his playing.

"I was just trying to play what was right for the songs, maybe more than some of my jazz records where I take the lead. Also, I believe in the blues, and any chance I have to edit myself I do, because I tend to play too much sometimes -- like all jazz players."

For the Ottawa show, Scofield has assembled a group of musicians he calls "young upstarts on the jazz scene" -- Gary Versace on organ, John Benitez on bass and Steve Hass on drums.

"We do one tune that will be straight ahead jazz, and the next will be stone funk, and the next one will be gospel. These guys cover all the bags."

The singer is Meyer Statham.

"He a fantastic gospel and R&B singer who has been on the club scene in Boston. He's got soul, and he's a great singer."

Scofield says the new band has caught fire. "The songs on the album have taken on even a different thing now," he promises.

John Scofield plays the Casino du Lac Leamy Saturday. Tickets & times, 1-800-361-4595

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

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Here's the review for Saturday's show:

Scofield captures legend's earthy groove

Alex Hutchinson

The Ottawa Citizen

Sunday, October 16, 2005

John Scofield rode into town last night on the tail end of the wave of Ray Charles mania that followed the soul legend's death last summer.

In front of a nearly full house at Casino du Lac-Leamy's 1,100-seat theatre, the jazz guitarist played material from his recent album of Charles' music, part of the concert series marking the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa International Jazz Festival.

Scofield did a good job of walking the middle ground between slavish imitation and the unrecognizable abstraction that sometimes hurts jazz tributes, thanks partly to the fact that the heart of Charles' music -- the earthy groove that defined the soul genre -- runs deep within Scofield's own playing.

Scofield brought a muscular young rhythm section, with bassist John Benitez's baggy jeans and Fubu T-shirt and drummer Steve Haas's knitted skull-cap and soul patch highlighting the band's generation gap. Haas's crackling backbeat drove the music forward, while organist Gary Versace floated above with silky backgrounds that sounded as good as the Raelettes and a simple but lyrical solo on You Don't Know Me.

But despite the youth of the rhythm section, it was Scofield himself who was pushing and prodding familiar soul classics like Hit the Road Jack in the new directions with tight arrangements and solos that avoided simple riffing.

Scofield's tribute album, That's What I Say, hit stores in June and featured an impressive parade of guest vocalists ranging from Dr. John to John Mayer. This left roomy shoes to fill for Boston-based Meyer Statham, who has been handling the vocals (and occasional trombone riffs) for the tour that kicked off last month in New York City.

Statham's warm baritone seemed almost too smooth for the material on the opening rendition of I Got a Woman, but as the show went on, he started to step out a bit. By the time the band returned with a funkified reprise of the opener late in the program, Statham was growling and running up and down the scale with gospel flourishes.

But in the end, it was Scofield's soloing chops that fans came to hear, and he showed his full range of invention, from the sustained bop lines on Just Me, Just You to the driving funk of the I Got a Woman reprise, which ended with a Scofield trademark: a long and playful romp with distortion and feedback pedals, producing a glorious jumble of moans and whistles that even Charles, in his infinite creativity, could never have foreseen.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

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REVIEW POSTED

I loved the music. I have a hard time expressing myself seated so I sure hope he can come back and do Barrymore's or something where we're free from the shackles.

Scofield put on one helluva show and his band was incredible. There were moments where it was like they were walking on delicate eggshells with their groove. I mean, they couldn't have touched their instruments softer to make it.

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Scofield spoke of the collaboration of many people on this new album and paid a special tribute to the talent of Warren Haynes. Scofield mentioned how he’s trying to play bottleneck like Warren and with that he pulled out a slide and broke into “The Nighttime is the Right Timeâ€.

Maybe that should go into the Warren Haynes thread?

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