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John Scofield: A Go Go

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As a follow-up to the most sophisticated and gorgeous sounding record of his career (1996’s Quiet, the guitarist’s first acoustic project distinguished by his lush, Gil-inspired horn arrangements), John Scofield dips back into the grease with rib-eating gusto on A Go Go, his jaunty encounter with Medeski Martin & Wood. Like Jim Hall with Bill Evans and Jimmy Nolen with James Brown, this match was made in heaven. MMW, reigning kings of the neo-groove scene, is the perfect backup band for anyone interested in stretching within a beat-oriented context. They are flexible enough and funky enough to follow the guitarist’s lead. Plus, their organic hookup and syncopated tendencies tweak Sco’s nastiest sensibilities. The result is a groovefest full of glorious bent-note abandon, skronking harmonics and no doubt lots of grimacing by Mr. Scofield.

Of course, John has gone to this funky well before. His more electrified phase with Gramavision included some particularly nasty tracks (the title track to Blue Matter or the Meters’ “Cissy Strut” on Flat Out). He got down on some Blue Note sessions, notably 1993’s Hand Jive with Eddie Harris and 1995’s Groove Elation with funky drummer Idris Muhammad and B-3 organist Larry Goldings. But none of those efforts were as completely realized and thoroughly funky as A Go Go.

The title track is an earthy-eerie opener, a bit of minor key funk with a misterioso vibe. Scofield enters with a subdued, creamy tone which gradually escalates in intensity to slashing statements with nasty intent.

Scofield has never done anything quite so funky as “Chank,” his gritty tribute to longtime rhythm guitar ace Jimmy Nolen, who put the funky backbone in all of James Brown’s classic ’60s grooves. Aside from just digging in with a vengeance on the syncopated vamp, “Boozer,” John gets down to scrapping the strings and squealing ecstatically on top of the syncopated push-and-pull laid down by drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood, who sound like the rhythm tandem of Melvin Parker and Bernard Odum here.

Keyboardist John Medeski is a marvel throughout this project. Besides being…dare I say it…the funkiest white man to ever tame the hulking B-3 beast, he is a daring improviser and sound innovator; in short, the perfect foil for Scofield. Medeski demonstrates a positively telepathic connection with his MMW bandmates while still being in total synch with Sco on the heads. And his choice of timbres, like on the title track, “Jeep On 35” and the subdued “Green Tea,” is often unexpected.

Scofield and MMW share a passion for New Orleans second line rhythms, which they explore to the hilt on the lazy sounding “Southern Pacific.” And for a release from the funky tension generated by the rest of the album they throw in a haunting interlude, “Kubrick,” just to provide a bit of breathing space. But then they get right back on the goodfoot with “Hottentot,” a slyly syncopated tune featuring the guitarist’s over-the-top showcase in which he also cuts Medeski loose and “gives the drummer some.” “Chicken Dog,” either something barely edible or the name of a stoopid-funky drummer down in N’awlins, is another insinuating second line groove fueled by Martin’s loosely rolling street beat and anchored by bassist Wood’s humungous upright tones. On the ether-drenched “Deadzy,” Wood unleashes with a flurry of flute-like bowed overtones, adding to the mysterioso ambiance of this strange closer.

Those still pining for the Gil-like voicings and elegance of Quiet may be put off by the relentless nature of this groovy collaboration. But those who aren’t afraid of the funk will definitely want to go to this A Go Go.