Still Swinging 

John Scofield Brings His Latest Combo to Yoshi's

After focusing on funk the past few years — with his own group that included Berkeley rhythm guitar ace Avi Bortnick and in collaborations with Medeski, Martin & Wood — John Scofield is getting back into the swing of things. This Meets That, his new Emarcy CD, is the Akron, Ohio-born guitarist's most straight-ahead effort in some time, with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart, plus a four-man horn section. Scofield is bringing this configuration — minus one horn player and with Larry Grenadier subbing for Swallow — to Yoshi's October 10-14.

"I really love swinging," says the 55-year-old former Miles Davis sideman. "Even though the funk stuff I play is supposed to swing feel-wise, I love the swing feel in the drums and the walking bass and all the looseness that that music brings to your improvising lines."

There is one funk tune on This Meets That, however. "Heck of a Job" — a Scofield composition titled in wry reference to George W. Bush's post-Katrina comment, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," to FEMA director Michael Brown — reflects the guitarist's long-held interest in the music of New Orleans funk legends the Meters. Stewart keeps the groove deep in a second-line pocket, yet at the same time makes it swing.

"Other guys would play that like a straight funk tune, but Bill is able to bring his thing to it," Scofield says of the drummer. "I just know we're swinging, and I know it's funky too. Bill has developed a way to do that, and it's coming from the masters Billy Higgins and Vernell Fournier and these guys. It's very hard to find a drummer who can do that."

Besides nine Scofield tunes, the disc includes unique interpretations of Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and "House of the Rising Sun." The latter features second guitarist Bill Frisell, whose shimmering lines blend with Scofield's prickly tones like oil and vinegar.

The band's scorching arrangement of "Satisfaction" came about by accident. "Bill Stewart can play all kinds of funk beats, but he doesn't really want to," the guitarist explains. "He wants to play straight-ahead, but one day at sound check he was playing like this Otis Redding beat and I started to play 'Satisfaction' along with it as a kind of goof almost, just for something to play, 'cause it fit it. I thought, Wow, here's a beat that Bill really wants to play. He plays that shit so great."

"The other ironic thing," Scofield adds, "is 'Satisfaction' and 'House of the Rising Sun' are these two iconic kind of guitar riffs that every kid learns. They were some of the first things I learned in the first year that I had a guitar. They're easy to play, but there's also something about those songs that is very appealing. They're also some of the first songs that Frisell ever learned. We learned them when they were hits on the radio. That's not why I did them, but I think it's kind of strange that I came up with these very organic arrangements of these tunes and they happened to be like the first tunes I ever learned. I guess my pop sensibilities are still stuck in 1966."

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