Canons are useful constructs when looking at the history of the arts, and organizations like Jazz at Lincoln Center are synonymous with the virtues and vices of honoring such a hall-of-fame concept. Holding up a curated list of masters and epochs is important, but there are snares to consider, like repetition and the exclusion of great music not yet old enough for a historian’s judgment.
The guitarist and composer John Scofield, for his JALC retrospective, titled “Quiet and Loud Jazz” and held May 5-6 in the Appel Room, upended common notions of what it means to revisit the past in jazz programming. In one roughly 90-minute program, Scofield returned to two albums: Blue Matter, a 1987 LP reflecting a specific era of brainy funk-fusion; and Quiet, from 1996, where he plays acoustic guitar and authors arrangements evoking the cinematic expanse of Gil Evans. These are terrific albums but not necessarily the records you’d point to as Scofield’s most representative work—that would be, say, his fearsome postbop quartet with saxophonist Joe Lovano, or his jam-band-tinged jazz-rock period that began with 1998’s A Go Go. But those angles have seen action in recent years, making this JALC run a fan’s delight. These weren’t ensembles you would expect to be resurrected, adding an element of surreality to the evening.