Steve Swallow’s bass guitar
Not long into his encore during the first set at the Regattabar Thursday night, guitarist John Scofield stopped the band, walked across the stage and took the sheet music from Steve Swallow's stand. Walking back to his mic, Scofield explained that this was a piece he'd written out years ago – and the notes were all wrong. "But Steve's such a good guy," Scofield said. The bassist was going to tough it out – "maybe if I minor-third it," Scofield projected. He then calmly ripped the music into long shreds and the band went into a ripping version of a Charlie Parker tune.
This was the first of two nights at the Regattabar for the trio (they play two sets tonight, Friday), and they were stupendous. Scofield is, rightfully, considered a modern-jazz-guitar deity, with a fluency that extends from standards to funk to alternatey spiky and lyrical originals. And it doesn't hurt that he's capable of onstage self-deprecating comedy in addition to the wit and humor of his music.
They opened with a reconfigured heavily bebopping version of the standard "How Deep Is the Ocean," way uptempo and unrecognizable if not for Scofield's post-song announcement. Then came a new Scofield number, "Like This But Better"—– medium tempo, featuring one of Swallow's upper-register singing solos. Scofield's "Chicken Dog" ("not about an animal") was hard, edgy jazz funk, with drummer Bill Stewart coming in behind the beat for some witty floor-tom hits and Swallow playing big strumming funk chords.
There was lovely lyricism in Carla Bley's "Lawns," Scofield looping his cadenza with some "backwards" guitar, then another uptempo classic, Miles Davis's "Budo."On the cadenza of "Someone To Watch Over Me," Scofield worked a little oom-pah-pah merry-go-round figure into his loops, then came Parker's "Confirmation" and another furious tempo.
Maybe the most "out," ferocious number was Scofield's "Over Big Top," a one-chord vamp that pushed the funk to the max, featured a tight-loose declamatory Stewart solo and then Scofield bringing it down for some finger-nail scraping on a single string that suggested both an African "talking" drum and an R&B chicken scratch. This trio has played together on and off for years, with a couple of discs to their credit, and they're well worth catching on every visit.