It’s been 23 years since legendary guitarist John Scofield disbanded his original group with saxophonist Joe Lovano after a brilliant three-album run on the then newly revived Blue Note label. Scofield and Lovano got back together in an acoustic quartet last year to renew their remarkable collaboration with a recording session on another classic jazz imprint, Impulse!, which came back into production in 2014. Like Blue Note, Impulse! now belongs to the label stable of corporate giant Universal Music Group, and as in 1990 with their first Blue Note album, Time on My Hands, the Scofield and Lovano Quartet has scored a major hit with 2015’s Past Present for Impulse!, which made many influential top 10 lists for jazz album of the year.
For a certain kind of music fan — and there are lots of them — nothing comes close to the way these two men play jazz. Fully melodic and endlessly inventive, they sound gritty and driven yet light and playful, and they make music that effortlessly abandons conventional categories. Scofield and Lovano put the “out” jazz and classic bebop compositions they play through a prism of grooves and textures drawn from blues, funk, and vintage R & B. It appears that neither musician is remotely capable of uttering even a single cliché. While the album is fantastic, tunes like the slinky, sidewinding “Get Proud” and the sizzling title track demand to be heard live, especially in the Lobero, where every nuance of these four-part improvisations will be crystal clear. The show is on Thursday, February 25, and the ScoLo Quartet for this gig includes Ben Street on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.
I caught up with the supremely affable Scofield by phone from his home in Katonah, New York, where he was enjoying some time with his family but said he was “ready for some sea breezes” in Santa Barbara. Last time through for Scofield was five years ago in a memorable guitar summit double bill with his trio and Bill Frisell’s group. Scofield’s band opened that night, and they tore through some Charlie Parker charts before settling in to a magnificent Scofield original called “Simply Put.” Frisell’s whole group sat in for the last number of their set, a freewheeling jam on the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
The guitarist said that the reunion with Lovano, slow in coming as it was, still felt sort of inevitable, seeing how much he and Lovano enjoy playing together and how long they’ve known each other musically — since their student days at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The chemistry that made them such a dynamic combination is still very much there, but what’s changed for Scofield is that he feels his writing is “more focused” and that they have both matured as artists to a very relaxed and balanced place. Which is not to say that they aren’t still combustible, especially live, in part due to the way that both men like to engage with the drummer. “When there’s no piano, I carry on a rhythmic dialogue, and getting that happening is important,” Scofield said.
“Jazz is a group thing,” he added, in a tone of voice that somehow seemed to smile, and with the upcoming Lobero appearance clearly on his mind. “It’s going to be great to be back in that theater.”
The John Scofield and Joe Lovano Quartet plays Thursday, February 25, at 8 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre, 33 East Canon Perdido Street. For tickets and information, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.