Up All Night
In band parlance, to be "in the pocket" is to achieve the pinnacle of groove: deep-furrowed, loose-limbed and irresistibly funky. The Meters were pocket players; so were Parliament/Funkadelic and Sly & the Family Stone. And so today is John Scofield's working group, a quartet beloved by jam-band fans and liberal jazzbos alike. The group's last record, Uberjam, was a mosaic of clever, catchy electro-funk. This follow-up effort, recorded in the Berkshires, catches the group in a more organic setting, and with fewer studio embellishments. What you hear is a road-tested band at leisure, up all night just because no one's ready to quit.
Scofield's guitar is naturally the leading voice here, and it's alternately fluid or choppy as the moment warrants. As on Uberjam, Sco benefits greatly from the support of rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick; an Afro-beat-inspired "Thikhathali" is only the most obvious example of their collaborative push-and-pull. Drummer Adam Deitch and bassist Andy Hess are no less central to the proceedings. In fact, whether laying down "Four on the Floor," animating "Freakin' Disco" or skittering through "Creeper," they're the ones putting this disc in the proverbial pocket.
Which raises the only problem with Up All Night: sometimes a pocket can be an all-too-comfortable place. Scofield and crew acquit themselves flawlessly to the material, but their marsupial comfort has a numbing effect as the disc plays on. There are no real clunkers on the album (despite a cheeky "Watch Out for Po-Po," which comes close), and a tightly arranged horn section livens up half the tracks. What seems to be missing is the edgy sensibility of a band reaching beyond its limits. It should serve as a testament to Scofield that those borders have already been stretched to the extreme.