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, "Dont 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 someones shoes
to know where they were going, I guess. But I cant tell where this one is
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 dont hear that
great stuff when I listen. The guitar lines dont congeal or reach out and
grab my feet. You know when Jimmy Nolan starts scratchin and you
cant stop your feet from moving? That should have happened here. It has
all the ingredients, but it doesnt jell into something funky, and I think
I know why: the mix is wrong for this kind of groove. Its 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 thats not what we have here. That leaves
the bassthe bass is good, but Id 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 doesnt come
home. Funk is like fried chicken because everyone has their own favorite
recipe. One mans secret recipe is another mans slop. Just seems
like this one could have been cooked with a little more grease and a little
less shinola. Gerry Lenocker