August 2022 Jazz Record Reviews

John Scofield: John Scofield
Scofield, electric guitar, looper
ECM 2727 (auditioned in 16/44.1 WAV, available as CD, LP). 2022. Manfred Eicher, exec. prod.; Tyler McDiarmid, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

In a distinguished half-century jazz career, John Scofield has been everywhere, played with everyone, and done everything. But he has never made a solo guitar record. Until now.

This eponymous release is his most intimate, most introspective album, though it's not entirely mellow. Scofield has roots in rock and country, and on his first solo record, he sometimes rocks out and sometimes gets twangy. He uses a looping device for chordal and rhythmic accompaniment. On Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," the rhythm track twitches with the song's famous Bo Diddley beat—but this is a unique version, complicated by surprising inner details that could only come from a jazz improviser. "You Win Again," by Hank Williams, is another interpretation that requires an artist at home in more than one world. Its aching sadness and resignation are as country as it gets—but its perspective is expanded by the asymmetrical pauses, asides, passing chords, and bent notes Scofield applies to the song.

Scofield elaborates some melodic originals beautifully, like "Honest I Do." There are some bright, quick celebrations from the American Songbook, like "There Will Never Be Another You" and "It Could Happen to You." But the most enduring moments are when Scofield allows the natural rapt atmosphere of a solo guitar album to prevail. "My Old Flame" is the simplest and shortest piece, with no looping device, but it is a patient, complete dissertation on how long-lost love can hover on the far reaches of memory. As for "Danny Boy," if you are not melted when a master storyteller lingers over one of the world's tenderest, most beloved stories in song, you have a heart of stone.

The sound is brilliant. Engineer Tyler McDiarmid brings Scofield's electric guitar to rich, raw, ringing life.—Thomas Conrad


Fabian Willmann Trio: Balance
Willmann, tenor saxophone; Arne Huber, bass; Jeff Ballard, drums; Asger Nissen, alto saxophone
CYH 0002 (CD, available as download). 2022. Patrik Zosso, Fabian Willmann, Sarah Chaksad, prods.; Patrik Zosso, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

The West Coast style of jazz that became popular in the 1950s, also known as the "Cool School," has had a unique history. It is regarded with great fondness by many current jazz fans. Reissues of albums by Stan Getz and Chet Baker still sell. But the West Coast genre is rarely an antecedent for today's jazz musicians. The music of the "Cool School" was light, melodic, and airy. Above all, it was pretty. Most jazz today is edgy and exploratory. It is often not pretty, although at its best it is beautiful.

Enter Fabian Willmann, born in Germany 65 years after Stan Getz and 6000 miles from Los Angeles. But his subtle, measured aesthetic concept and his mellow, come-hither tenor saxophone tone make you think of breezes on California beaches.

Balance, his debut as a leader, on CYH, a new Swiss label, contains six clean, open song forms that set Willmann into graceful motion. He glides and floats and takes his time. On "Royal," he ends up far from where he began. But Willmann is a trustworthy improviser. Even on adventures like "Murmuration," where fresh ideas flow from him as if outside his will, his creative process exhibits clarity and logic. Drummer Jeff Ballard, bassist Arne Huber, and alto saxophonist Asger Nissen (who joins on three tracks) all sound deeply integrated into the album's mood and atmosphere.

The only standard is "No Moon at All." It makes you wish for more. It also proves (in case anyone doubted) that nonchalance can swing. Willmann wanders around in the song and only seems to digress. Everything he plays contains an essence of the familiar melody. Ballard and Huber take cunning little solos.

Willmann and the CYH (for Clap Your Hands) label are off to an intriguing start.—Thomas Conrad


Charles Mingus: Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus
Mingus, bass; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Ted Curson, trumpet; Dannie Richmond, drums
Candid CCD 30052 (CD, available as download, LP). 1961/2022. Nat Hentoff, prod.; Bob D'Orleans, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ***½

This release (along with four other titles) relaunches the Candid label, which had a brief, high-profile run in 1960 and 1961. There was a previous attempt to revive the label, in 1989. The prospect of a fully restored Candid is exciting because its back catalog contains people like Cecil Taylor, Booker Little, and Booker Ervin. All five new reissues were remastered by A-list engineer Bernie Grundman.

Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus is a major document of its time. The piano-less quartet is Mingus plus Eric Dolphy, Ted Curson, and Dannie Richmond. The program is four Mingus originals. On this early version of "Fables of Faubus" (with a different title here for legal reasons), Mingus talk/sings the caustic lyrics that satirize segregationist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus. The burning solos of Dolphy and Curson contain both madcap parody and serious protest.

"Folk Forms, No. 1," with its wild calls and wilder responses, is a modern-day field holler. The epic, 15-minute centerpiece is "What Love." It proves that Dolphy and Curson could play ballads—sprung-loose, sprawling, turbulent ballads—and also that Mingus-plus-Richmond were too volatile an energy center to ever let a ballad settle. The relativity of tempo in a Mingus performance requires players who can function unmoored. Dolphy does much more than function: He was an explosive improviser, one of the most miraculous talents in the history of jazz. Curson, a hardcore, highly creative trumpet player, deserves to be better remembered today.

The mix is odd, with bass and drums in the left channel and horns in the right. But the sound is clear. The new reissue provides no historical perspective on this great album, reprinting only the original liner notes.—Thomas Conrad

Jonti's picture

This is a great Mingus record, no doubt about it. I recommend the 1977 Japanese pressing if you want a spectacular copy generationally closer to the original at a bargain price. Think I paid 10 euros for it.

hb72's picture

there’s a podcast called ECM Records Podcast, which has 1 episode with a longer intvw with the wonderful JS that has addl background info on this record.

tx for sharing

hb72's picture

there’s a podcast called ECM Records Podcast, which has 1 episode with a longer intvw with the wonderful JS that has addl background info on this record.

tx for sharing

TNtransplant's picture

I don't quite understand what the Performance ratings are supposed to mean? Understand for Western notated "classical" music -- which most legacy hifi publications focused on -- it can be the subjective assessment of the recording's interpretation of the composition. But for other musics?

Not to be (too) nit-picky, while Scofield and Willmann are fine musicians and worthwhile recordings, how they achieve 4 1/2 star Performance, while an acknowledged classic from a legend of the music (for me, Mingus is among the most significant artists of the second half of 20th century) gets 4 stars is kinda weird?

'What Love' is intended to be turbulent re-working of the two ballads referenced, hence the title, and the Mingus-Dolphy "conversations" are incredible. Okay, I might place the live Antibes recorded version where the quartet is augmented by Booker Ervin a notch higher, but.... (And if you're looking for historical perspective of Mingus's Candid recordings certainly worth tracking down the fine Mosaic box booklet.)

Is Performance supposed to be a sliding scale relative to the musician's recorded catalog so the "best" Kenny G gets a 5? Otherwise I don't see how Mingus Presents Mingus isn't a 5, despite the sonic shortcomings.

Fine reviews nonetheless. Thanks TC!