John Scofield: Uberjam Deux

It’s easy to have mixed feelings about guitarist John Scofield’s Überjam Deux. Back in 2002, the first installment refused to sit still: It beeped, buzzed, whirred and grooved. A year later, Up All Night felt like a rightful successor, continuing to retrace lines between jazz, funk and electronic music. Both albums demanded contemplation and dance. Ten years later, Überjam Deux seems like an afterthought. At any rate, it sounds like a pale echo of what came before.

Sequels always risk self-parody. Here, the danger is real. On the album’s third track, “Endless Summer,” six minutes of pure Scofield are injected with every confection a MacBook can muster: flangers, phasers, digital delay, a segue that sounds suspiciously like “Boom Boom Pow,” and the result is listlessness.

Überjam Deux‘s self-consciousness cuts both ways. For better, “Al Green Song” and “Snake Dance” deliver exactly what they promise. On “Torero,” Scofield and frequent collaborator John Medeski (keys) stick to what they do best: corkscrewing tension and release. Still, other songs like “Dub Dub” and “Scotown” are reminders that jazz-for-the-dance-floor is just one shtick away from on-hold music.

Despite the middling compositions, the players make this an album that cannot be written off. More than anyone, Scofield has honed his own phonetics for the guitar-squealing bends and string scrapes, pinched notes and lacy runs. It’s worth the retail cost alone to hear him work it over his inveterate rhythm section.

Forty-two studio albums in, John Scofield has made his career by defying expectations. With his latest release, it may be best not to have any.