John Scofield, Uncle John’s Band Review
John Scofield’s Uncle John’s Band: Where Jazz Storytelling and Groove Converge
by Nolan DeBuke
Greetings to the ardent jazz enthusiasts, distinguished professionals, and curious readers who find solace in the rich colors of this storied genre. Today, I present to you my reflections on a splendid offering from guitar virtuoso John Scofield—his latest double album, Uncle John’s Band, released under the venerable ECM Records label. Drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Vicente Archer are accompanying Scofield on this musical journey. Like a master gardener attuned to the perfect moment of harvest, Scofield’s timing is impeccable; his musical creations consistently mature to fruition. I invite you to join me as we traverse selected tracks from this intricate tapestry of rhythmic landscapes and melodic intricacies. Each listen reveals new layers, akin to the complex harmonic overtones in a well-voiced guitar chord.
From the opening strains of “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the ruminative atmosphere of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” Uncle John’s Band reveals Scofield’s musical diversity. Kicking off the album, his interpretation of Bob Dylan’s iconic “Mr. Tambourine Man” exemplifies Scofield’s fluency in different musical languages. The introductory ‘pedal chord’ loop serves as a musical and conceptual foundation, allowing Scofield to construct his distinctive jazz vocabulary. In a manner echoing famed jazz educator David Baker’s emphasis on the primacy of “rhythmic feel” over mere note choices, the trio—Scofield, Archer, and Stewart—find an intimate rhythmic space that can aptly be described as the “pocket,” a term revered in jazz academia for its crucial role in ensemble cohesion. Here, note choices aren’t mere afterthoughts; they’re an organic outgrowth of this foundational groove. The result is sublime modern jazz at its finest.
Scofield’s true genius manifests in his virtuosic guitar work, and his remarkable compositional ear—a trait generously displayed in “Nothing Is Forever.” Whether capturing the immediacy of the moment through improvisation or sketching out his musical ideas on manuscript paper, Scofield crafts narratives in sound. The track presents a lyrical melody-building. Picture rock and folk as honored guests at a high-society jazz gathering—Scofield is the consummate host. Scofield’s solo transcends a sequence of notes; it’s a crafted narrative told in Scofield’s idiosyncratic musical language. Archer’s bass lines ground the harmonic framework, while Stewart’s drumming injects rhythmic nuance and depth. This trio exhibits an intrinsic understanding of each member’s artistic inflections, elevating the track’s overall narrative and texture.
In a genre often characterized by its standards, Scofield’s interpretation of “Stairway to the Stars” is brought to life by his ability to breathe new life into time-honored compositions. The chordal comping during the ‘head’ of the tune establishes a harmonic foundation rich in complexity, the kind one might dissect in an advanced jazz theory course. However, Scofield doesn’t get tied up in the technical aspects of playing a standard; he inhabits it. His solo unfurls as a distinct narrative, masterfully supported by a rhythm section that knows precisely when to interject, escalate the tension, or hold back. In both phrasing and rhythmic placement, Scofield adheres to—and occasionally transcends—the written and unwritten codes of jazz storytelling, a subject often overlooked but deeply deserving of wider exploration.
With Uncle John’s Band, John Scofield reaffirms his indelible impact on the modern jazz landscape. The album is a tribute to the genre’s rich traditions, yet it also expands those boundaries in compelling ways. It offers a multi-dimensional showcase of Scofield’s talents—be it his stylistic versatility or his knack for innovative composition. His deep-rooted understanding of jazz idioms and a fearless willingness to explore new musical terrains make this album an essential listen.
But the album’s most compelling magic lies in the trio’s unparalleled ability to groove. Whether it’s swing, funk, rock, fusion, folk, or country, Scofield, Archer, and Stewart master it all with unerring synchronicity. Whether you’re a jazz aficionado, a working musician, or someone who simply appreciates good music, Uncle John’s Band demands your full attention. Multiple listens are not just recommended; they’re practically required to fully absorb the rich, groove-laden interactions that make this album a modern jazz must-listen.