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John Scofield - Uncle John’s Band (ECM)

13 October 2023

Some albums follow a theme. Some of them simply collect a group of finished songs. And some gather together two albums’ worth of those completed tunes. Such is the case for Uncle John’s Band from the John Scofield Trio. Drawing on every aspect of Scofield’s playing, from free bop to acid country to swinging blues, and mixing originals with covers, the two disks don’t necessarily have – or need – a throughline. They just construct loose frameworks for the guitarist, bassist Vicente Archer, and drummer Bill Stewart (now going on three decades of work with Scofield) to improvise. The guitarist’s “Nothing is Forever” twists the blues into new shapes, while his “Back in Time” reimagines the melody of “Ghost Riders (in the Sky)” as hard bop. A freewheeling version of the Bob Dylan (via the Byrds) classic “Mr. Tambourine Man” sets up some close-knit interplay, while a post bop take on Miles Davis’ “Budo” gives Stewart room to show off his chops. The leader’s “Mo Green” brings the walking blues back, while his “The Girlfriend Chord” (a Cmaj7#5, in case you’re wondering) puts the Sco spin on acid jazz. Meanwhile, the trio takes the West Side Story staple “Somewhere” into uncharted territory, while they plug the funk into Scofield’s “TV Land.” The band feels tight while playing loose, bringing every track to life with color, energy, and no small amount of skill. Uncle John’s Band is simply a great collection of tunes showcasing what the John Scofield Trio does at its very best.