John Scofield: Combo 66
There isn’t a special theme guiding the latest from guitarist John Scofield. Combo 66 is titled as such because that’s how old he is—simple as that— and the only thing the tunes have in common is that he wrote them all and provides the guitar. That guitarplaying remains some of the most reliably fluid and tasteful in jazz. Scofield prefers clean lines, a marked swing (even notably present in the ballads) to push his melodies ahead and an uncluttered accompaniment that allows his leads to stand out without entirely dominating the proceedings. It’s a formula that has made Scofield one of the most popular artists in contemporary jazz— he took home Grammys in 2015 ( Past Present ) and 2016 ( Country for Old Men ) without sacrificing any artistic integrity to attain those wins, not that he ever has in his 40-plus-year career. As on both of those albums, Scofield calls on the drumming skills of Bill Stewart for this new one, while utilizing bassist Vincente Archer and keyboardist Gerald Clayton to flesh out his ideas. They make for a formidable team: In the opening track, “Can’t Dance,” the quartet takes just enough liberties from the core melody to keep things consistently interesting, without venturing so far away that they lose the thread. On corkers like “Icons at the Fair” and “Dang Swing,” Scofield comes out blazing, but the cooler tempos of “Willa Jean” and “I’m Sleeping In” offer him just as much opportunity to explore the new compositions thoroughly—in any given situation, Scofield and his collaborators are locked in tight. Although they are keen to take care, they never fail to remember that these are songs they are playing, not mere exhibitions of technique.