John Scofield Returns To The Scene Of The Jam On his latest album, the guitarist puts his funky jazz-rock stamp on compositions that nod to Al Green, Afro-pop and rhythm & blues, with a couple old collaborators in tow.

John Scofield Returns To The Scene Of The Jam

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If you sample the first few notes of guitarist John Scofield's new album, "Uberjam Deux," you might mistake it for something out of West Africa. But a spin through the tracks takes you to another hemisphere with a sound right out of Jamaica.


WERTHEIMER: A couple tracks later, it lands on American shores with a soulful homage to Al Green.


WERTHEIMER: The musical paths may be well worn but that guitar is uniquely John Scofield. He's a player with serious jazz cred, having served with everyone from Miles Davis to Charles Mingus to Herbie Hancock. The first "Uberjam" record was released in 2002. And for "Uberjam Deux," he's brought back some of the original players, including rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick and B3 organ player John Medeski.

John Scofield joins us from our New York Bureau, welcome.

JOHN SCOFIELD: Hi, Linda, thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So how do you manage to get us to agree to participate in all these styles co-existing on one album?

SCOFIELD: I don't really see them as such different styles. They're just all different grooves. There'll different funky beats.

WERTHEIMER: Now, all of the songs on this CD are originals except for one.


WERTHEIMER: And I'd like to do a little compare and contrast here. You've done a cover of the 1974 song "I Just Don't Want To Be Lonely," by The Main Ingredient. This is the original.


THE MAIN INGREDIENT: (Singing) And I don't care if we share only moments a day, I just don't want to be lonely. I'd rather be loved and needed, depended on to give the love I can't give, ah-ah-ah-ah, when you're gone...

WERTHEIMER: Now here's your version.


SCOFIELD: (Playing)

WERTHEIMER: So, in your version, are you playing the role of the singer Cuba Gooding?

SCOFIELD: Absolutely, I'm trying to sing with my guitar. I play the melody and then later on, I improvise, you know, jazz over the groove.

WERTHEIMER: And that's how you make it yours.

SCOFIELD: Yeah, I mean, I'm not sure. I mean, when I play it's me in that I'm playing the guitar. But, you know, the music comes through us but we all put it together in our own way. I always like the analogy, you know, when your friend calls you on the phone you know who they are right away - with their voice, with a couple of words. And it's like that with somebody playing an instrument who's done it long enough to have a sound. You can tell right away that it's them and it's almost they can even help but have their own sound.


WERTHEIMER: Now, the way you play the electric guitar, it's not just about melody and chords. It sounds like you work really hard to get those notes to bend to get interesting tones from your guitar, and the amps and the other equipment.

SCOFIELD: Mm-hmm, yeah. You know, I love the vocal element of the electric guitar and I've gotten more into it lately, I guess, in the last - I guess I was always into it, you know. But lately just trying to get the sonic thing and make it sound like a voice or just expressive. Let's put it that way.


WERTHEIMER: There are several interesting musicians on the album. There's somebody playing the organ of the Al Green number. Who's that?

SCOFIELD: That's John Medeski on organ.

WERTHEIMER: And its John Medeski began then on this track called "Curtis Knew"...

SCOFIELD: That's right.

WERTHEIMER: ...where we hear some very strange electronic samples.



SCOFIELD: Yeah, those are sounds that he generates. They're not samples. They're from the Mellotron which is a strange pre-synthesizer instrument that uses analog tapes. And John actually - it triggers these tapes with a keyboard and the tapes spin and John slows them down and speeds them up and manipulates them manually by hand. He'll hold it and slow down so he gets this weird (sound effect) to make these crazy sounds.


MEDESKI: (Playing)

WERTHEIMER: But the idea that you could lay your hands on the reels and slow them down, speed them up that...

SCOFIELD: That's Medeski. You're not supposed to do that.


WERTHEIMER: I think it ruins Mellotrons. And he just has his way with them.

So when you perform in a concert, how do you and these other guys sort of play off each other on stage? I guess it must be different from the studio.

SCOFIELD: Yeah. You know, it's different but basically we're doing the same thing; we listen to each other and try to have it all work. But the key is listening. You know, so many musicians, they practice at home and they just listen to themselves. But what jazz musicians do, maybe a little bit more than other people, is blend and make it come together as a group; having their sounds fit in with the other people by improvising around what they're doing and setting each other up. You know, it's a team effort. And we do it on stage in the studio 'cause we don't a lot of layering and stuff. This is a - my records are made in the old way, you know, where you just go in and play.

WERTHEIMER: Guitarist John Scofield, his new album is "Uberjam Deux." He joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you.

SCOFIELD: Thanks so much, Linda.


WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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