Innovative jazz guitarist John Scofield has always utilized the languages of rock, blues, and R&B, from his earliest recordings for Enja and Gramavision through his tenure with Miles Davis. At the end of the 20th century, he indulged them more fervently on 1998’s A Go Go with Medeski, Martin & Wood, and with a larger cast on 2000’s Bump. But the first Überjam album, issued in 2002, employed funky jazz grooves that stretched all those musics with improvisational discovery.
Up All Night followed, using mostly the same band but with added horns to fine effect. A decade later, Überjam Deux reunites the guitarist with guitarist/sampler Avi Bortnick and drummer Adam Deitch from the original unit, and bassist Andy Hess (from Up All Night). John Medeski guests on half-a-dozen cuts; drummer Louis Cato appears on four. With a core band so familiar with one another, Scofield is able to take his relentless curiosity far and wide. Bortnick is a wonderful rhythm guitarist; his fat-chord vamps and biting, single-line fills on either guitar or keyboards offer Scofield a fitting foil, that’s as integral as his own guitar or as the rhythm section to the mix. Bortnick’s electronic loop and sample work is equally imaginative. Check the opener “Camelus,” where his chunky, soulful four-chord vamp adds ballast to the rhythm section, but also a wiry harmonic center for Scofield. Medeski makes his presence heard on the reggae number “Dub Dub,” where his organ comes whispering out of the ether of the implied melody, and adds another dimension to the smoky, head-nodding experience. “Cracked Ice” is jazz-funk at its very best, with Deitch and Hess firing away at the pocket and stretching it for Scofield to move along its ledge. “Al Green Song” may have been written by the guitarist, but it has Willie Mitchell and its subject’s feel all through it, via beautiful interplay between Scofield and Medeski. “Scotown,” with its Motown bassline, and dynamic chorus, is irresistible. These two tracks are 21st century soul-jazz with an exclamation point. “Toprero” is angular, fusion-like funk with smoking breaks by Deitch, while “Curtis Knew” is a ballad where Scofield tenderly suggests Curtis Mayfield’s singing voice in his melody. The only cover here is the Main Ingredient’s “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely.” Here, while Scofield stays faithful to the spirit of the soul original in both his melodic statement and solo, Bortnick’s rhythm guitar suggests later interpretations that have made it a reggae standard as well, creating a new hybrid of breezy yet intuitive invention.
For those wary of a band that can re-assemble after a decade and still be vital, Überjam Deux should convince them otherwise; it’s not only a logical extension of its predecessor, but despite its relaxed presentation, it is wonderfully creative in its pursuit of heart of the almighty groove. ~ Thom Jurek Recording information: Sear Sound, New York, NY (01/2013). Photographers: Nick Suttle; Jean Scofield; Elizabeth Penta. Personnel: John Scofield (guitar); Avi Bortnick (guitar, sampler); John Medeski (organ, Wurlitzer organ, Mellotron); Louis Cato, Adam Deitch (drums). Audio Mixer: James Farber.