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John Scofield - 05-03-06 - Seoul


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Plays the Music of Ray Charles - Live in Seoul

Friday, March 3, 2006 - Sejong Cultural Center

Live Music Review

By Kevin O'Neill


John Scofield

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House music aside, live music shows from international touring artists are

few and far between in Seoul. From the past six months that I've been here,

only a handful of loathsome acts have passed though: Backstreet Boys, Kenny

G, Michael Bolton. The DJ scene is more promising, but even then its not

very dependable. Paul Kruder (of Kruder & Dorfmeister) played a great show;

but scheduled shows from Kid Koala, Diplo, and DJ Shortkut all fell through

the cracks. Its surprising to me that more touring acts don't stop in

Seoul, seeing as its one of the 10 biggest cities in the world, and in such

close proximity to band-friendly Japan.

Given this state of affairs, you can imagine my excitement upon seeing a

John Scofield date pop up on Pollstar a few months ago. The show was held

at the Sejong Cultural Centre, whose main theatre has 3 levels and seats

just over 3000 people. This room regularly sees the likes of the Seoul

National Philharmonic and is also the home of the largest pipe organ in

Asia. On this occasion, there were noticably vacant globs of expensive

seats on the floor, while the two balconies were fairly full.

Scofield is currently touring in support of his latest album, "That's What I

Say," a tribute to the late Ray Charles. Perhaps one of Scofield's most

accessible works to date, the album includes cameos by Warren Haynes, Dr.

John, Aaron Neville, John Mayer, Mavis Staples and others. The line-up for

the Seoul date featured Dean Bowman (vocals), Gary Versace (Hammond B3,

Wurlitzer), Steve Hass (drums) and Ruben Rodriquez (bass) - hired session

hands who are easily up to the task.

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It was billed as an 8pm show and I didn't get off work until 8:10pm, across

town. I booted it but still managed to miss the opening act, and the first

song or two of Scofield's set. As my friend and I entered the lobby I heard

Scofield's slinky guitar work on "I Don't Need No Doctor". I kicked myself

for missing one of my favourite tracks on the album, and finally we were

shown into the theatre once the song ended. Our seats were as close as you

could get to the band, but far stage right. As it turned out, Scofield's

back was turned to us the whole night. Luck of the draw I guess. Dean

Bowman, an amazingly talented soul singer who was once hailed by Sue Mingus

as "the most important jazz vocalist since Bobby McFerrin," took the

backseat for "Hit The Road Jack" and let Scofeild shine for a while.

Obviously a crowd favourite, this tune got the biggest rise out of the

audience for most of the set. Steady, on-beat clapping. "Sticks and

Stones" came next; the funkiest, most exploratory song of the night for

certain. Versace's Wurlitzer was sounding excellent and Scofield did some

interesting stuff on his guitar. At one point he was holding the high frets

with his right hand and scratching his coiled strings (E, A, D) with the

thumb nail of his left hand, while working his wah pedal. I've never heard

the sound created before; all I can really compare it to is record

scratching. "Sticks and Stones" lasted about 10 minutes and was definitely

one of the highlights of the set for me. Next came the dreamy "You Don't

Know Me," a regretful balad that saw Bowman crooning us over. "Hallelujah I

Love Her So," a Charles tune that is not featured on the album, saw Hass and

Rodriquez flexing their chops in a drum and bass section that was really

cool. Its amazing how far they can seemingly fall away from a beat

recognizable to ordinary folk like myself but then intstanly come back to

it. The highlight of the song, however, came from Bowman, who dropped a

large scat upon us all. I've never really had much appreciation for the

scat vocals, but tonight I believe was my first proper introduction. It was

truly impressive; his vocal range is vast and he can be in many places

almost simultaneously. He was doing these ululating cresendos that were

nothing short of jaw-dropping. Scofield's beautiful extended introduction

to "Georgia On My Mind" slowed things and brought about a strong applause

from the crowd. "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "What'd I Say" finished off

the set.

After an applause which, I thought, left something to be desired, the band

re-emerged for a two song encore. The first was "Unchain My Heart," another

Charles tune not found on the Scofield's album. For this song they invited

up Jeon Je-Deok as a special guest. Je-Deok was the opener for the show.

He is a blind Korean harp player, probably in his early 30's. Je-Deok was

led onto the stage and took a seat on a stool, stage right. He was clearly

excited and took some inspired solos that had the rest of the band grinning

wide. "Night Time Is The Right Time" brought the evening to a spirited

close. Though lightly subdued given the nature of this particular project,

there is no doubt that Scofield is on top of his game right now, and

Seoulites were treated to a relaxed and delightful evening of music.

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