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John Scofield with Medesky, Martin & Wood
A Go Go,  Verve CD 314 539 979-2, 1997

 Is there such a thing as clean funk?

One of my guitar teachers always said, "Don’t criticize the work of another artist, because you have no idea what circumstances went into the work." That was his way of saying you had to walk in someone’s shoes to know where they were going, I guess. But I can’t tell where this one is going.

Sure, Scofield is sanctified as the top jazz guitarist of the decade. His jazz/funk stylings resuscitated the style from the smooth jazz types in the ’80s and early ’90s. His solos combine a fluid legato with one of the raunchiest tones out there (definitely a take-it-or-leave-it sound for many). His recent work with Joe Lovano and Joe Henderson cemented his reputation as an accompanist that manages to be both sensitive and assertive. And MM&W have a fanatic following as the ’90s heppest groove-meisters. Their organ, bass, and drum trio shakes, moves, and funkifies everything they touch. On paper, this should have been a match made in heaven.

But this thing is dead from the first moment. It must be me, because everyone involved has said great things about the session. But I don’t hear that great stuff when I listen. The guitar lines don’t congeal or reach out and grab my feet. You know when Jimmy Nolan starts scratchin’ and you can’t stop your feet from moving? That should have happened here. It has all the ingredients, but it doesn’t jell into something funky, and I think I know why: the mix is wrong for this kind of groove. It’s too clean and up front. The drums, for instance, are perfectly clean and pronounced up front. Go back and listen to Tower of Power, to James Brown, to Maceo Parker even, and you hear a different mix where the drums are articulated but not as clear. Or maybe the organ is panned wrong to make it lead. Listen to Booker T. & the MGs for an example of where the organ ought to be. I hate to say it, but maybe the guitar is wrong for this kind of sound: you want ultra-clean and way back in the mix for the rhythm and that’s not what we have here. That leaves the bass–the bass is  good, but I’d have preferred Pino.

Still, I might be wrong. A couple of the cuts with acoustic guitar underneath almost take off. There are flashes, but the cookin’ just doesn’t come home. Funk is like fried chicken because everyone has their own favorite recipe. One man’s secret recipe is another man’s slop. Just seems like this one could have been cooked with a little more grease and a little less shinola.– Gerry Lenocker

Copyright © 1998 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.