The new En Route (Verve)--featuring this lithe, heady trio, recorded onstage--has been hailed as the return of the "real" John Scofield, to which I can only add "Welcome back." Four of Scofield's five previous albums, starting with 1998's hot-selling Medeski Martin & Wood collaboration A Go Go, had pushed into jam-band territory. It seemed a natural development: Scofield already had the keys to jam jazz in his pocket, having first built his style by welding elements of fusion, rock, and electric blues to a hard-bop chassis. But though the sales of those four albums may put Scofield's kids through college, the music didn't go much of anywhere. Ardent admirers hoped that his remarkable soloing--a frictional blend of loping tempos and chiseled improvisations, infused with his rawboned sound--might inspire his cohorts to match him, but instead his taut style tended to deflate to the level of his surroundings. Scofield's done an about-face with En Route, employing the guitar-bass-drums format he all but owned in the early 80s, when he established his reputation with lean, clean albums like Bar Talk and Shinola. This band includes two of his finest former sidemen: drummer Bill Stewart, who contributed drive and polish to Scofield's tremendous mid-90s quartet, and bassist Steve Swallow, who played on those trio records of the 80s. (Swallow was also the first jazzman to treat the bass guitar as something other than an amplified bass fiddle--no Swallow, no Jaco, folks.) Put this on the "can't miss" list. Brad Mehldau, another former Scofield sideman, opens with his own trio. $17-$47. Friday, June 25, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson.