Jazz journeyman John Scofield is back with his latest installment as the illustrious Ohioan with flying fingers continues to do what he was put on this planet to do. With more than four decades in jazz and collaborations with the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Herbie Hancock, Scofield is still recording relentlessly. He joins drummer Bill Stewart, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and bassist Larry Grenadier on Past Present.
Scofield reunited the group after nearly 20 years had passed since their last collaboration. Lovano and Scofield were classmates at Berklee College of Music in the ‘70s and Lovano later met Stewart while teaching at William Patterson College in New Jersey. The group previously recorded with bassist Dennis Irwin but recruited Grenadier for Past Present due to the passing of Irwin in 2008. The album is Scofield’s debut on Impulse! Records, the label once at the hands Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Past Present is the latest work from Scofield since his 2014 release Juice as a part of Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood and his first solo release since 2013’s Überjam Deux.
The albums begins to churn with Scofield’s pairing of elite technique and slippery, slurred lines on the opener “Slinky,” a tune taking it back to Scofield’s style in his 1998 release A Go Go. John and the guys then pick things up a bit with the speedily swanky “Chap Dance.”
Next is “Museum,” a track that probably belongs in one the way the jovial jazz master jumps from fret to fret as sax man Lovano relishes the opportunity to get know the listener a little better. “Get Proud” is absolute vintage Scofield as the intro is reminiscent of “Green Tea” from A Go Go. He then takes the back seat to Lovano as the track turns sweet and steamy. Scofield won’t leave without a last word, though, as Lovano trades him back the reigns in exchange for one of the more remarkable solos on the album.
Proceeded only by the title track “Past Present,” “Mr. Puffy” is a cornerstone of the album. Scofield revealed in an NPR Songs We Love feature that his relationship with his son shaped most of the Past Present material. Scofield’s son Evan passed away from cancer in 2013 and referred to himself as “Mr. Puffy” during chemotherapy.
“I know what I was going through” said Scofield. “I wasn’t thinking about music really. I was thinking about him.”
Past Present, to Scofield, also represents his refusal to remain stagnant as an artist while simultaneously embodying his utmost appreciation for the genre and a desire to pay homage to the artists that shaped him. Failure to embrace evolution despite a storied career like Scofield’s would simply be naïve. The fitting finale “Past Present” showcases a fret-wandering Scofield and the dynamic rhythm section of Stewart and Grenadier in superb form as the nine-track record eases to an end.
Scofield is nimble by nature in this release and resilient as ever. Now 63 years old, the jazz behemoth shows no signs of scaling back the ferocious clip at which he records. Throughout life’s twists and turns, his performance on this album is a testament to his perseverance. As far as a theme behind Scofield’s Past Present, don’t ever stop moving.
Recommended If You Like: Medeski Martin & Wood, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell