John Scofield | Piety Street

EmArcy (2009)
By JON GARELICK  |  March 30, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

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On the surface, this would seem a genre exercise — a professor/doctor of jazz guitar looking into the deep book of American gospel because it's . . . "interesting." But Scofield's integrity remains intact.

He snared a top-flight rhythm section with a hefty dose of New Orleans — keyboardist John Cleary, Meters bassist George Porter Jr., and drummer Ricky Fataar — and recorded at the NOLA studio of the title. And he understands that this is vocal music, so in addition to recruiting Cleary and Crescent City veteran John Boutté for vox duties, he plays like a singer, his own solos faithful to the vocal-melodic line, even as he spits pearly ornaments and note clusters.

He plays with a throaty sound, conjuring syllabic bends and breaks, often with an extra dash of B.B. King bite in his articulation. Testifying, he drops from a high-tenor range to deep baritone on Dorothy Love Coates's "That's Enough," or opens up the wah-wah on "Something's Got a Hold on Me." Perhaps best of all is a super-slow "The Old Ship of Zion," Thomas A. Dorsey's chestnut rearranged for Cleary's oozing funereal organ, Fataar's cymbal tapping in insistent triplet eighth-notes, Porter a never-ending marvel of groove and melody, and Scofield's guitar moaning along with them.

JOHN SCOFIELD PIETY STREET BAND | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | April 3-4 | 617.395.7757 or www.regattabarjazz.com

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