He’s still no creative daredevil, but you gotta hand it to John Scofield. It would have been easy for him to maintain his stature as the guitar geek’s jazz guitarist, churning out one funk-fusion album after another as he did throughout the 80s. Instead, this decade he’s made an effort to shake things up. He worked with the great saxophonist Joe Lovano to develop one of the finer postbop groups of the 90s (Scofield, it should be remembered, played with Mingus as well as Miles), but before that outfit got too predictable he moved on to a slightly unorthodox organ combo with Hammond B-3 whiz Larry Goldings. His last album, Quiet (Verve), was a rather tepid all-acoustic outing, but at least he wasn’t sitting still. On this year’s A Go Go (Verve) he revisits his funk-fusion past, but backed by the increasingly popular funk-jazz crossover combo Medeski Martin & Wood he’s able to pare away much of the old self-indulgent bombast. Admittedly the collaboration might have been devised as more of a marketing ploy than a bold move forward, but it’s a blast to listen to. The new tunes are steeped in the deep funk of James Brown and the Meters, but often they break down into looser, more free-form material–a transition greatly eased by MMW’s impressive flexibility and intuition. On both “Chank,” a virtual rewrite of the Bar-Kays’ classic “Soulfinger,” and the moody, atmospheric, aptly titled “Kubrick,” the quartet neatly blends edginess and repose. With Medeski and company about to tour in support of their own forthcoming album, Combustication (Blue Note), Scofield has been on the road with the core of his earlier organ group–Goldings and drummer Bill Stewart–plus bassist James Genus, but they’ll almost certainly delve into the new stuff. They have the unenviable task of opening for musical-wallpaper maker Lee Ritenour. Saturday, 8 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 312-595-7437 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marc Joseph.