This matchup looks really good on paper -- a guest shot by fluid, flexible guitarist John Scofield in the full flush of his first inventive phase with the quartet whose inside/outside mastery should have defined mainstream jazz in the '80s (if there was any justice, which we all now know there isn't). But Live at Montmarte really doesn't live up to expectations, in part because the first two tracks hit tempos that go beyond breakneck to become frenetic and one big technical gaffe. The culprit there is Cameron Brown's bass, which is miked so high it sounds like he's playing bass guitar on the first three tracks. It distorts the instrumental balance, rastily bombing out on the octave drops driving the near "Compared to What"-groove opening "Flame Games" and pulling attention from Don Pullen's strong solo on "Well, I Guess We'll Never Know" because of the loud, fat bass tone. "I.J." is too rushed to effectively lock in as George Adams strews about tenor sax notes and "Flame Games" breaks into an energetic, near-fusion theme that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, with equally sporadic moments in the solos. Things improve tempo-wise with "Well, I Guess We'll Never Know," enabling the group to finally achieve some cohesion and give a pretty muted Dannie Richmond his only (and brief) bit of solo space. With Brown's technical troubles resolved, the ballad-based final tracks are fine, with Adams and Scofield doubling on the pretty gorgeous, vaguely Arabic-tinged melody to "Forever Lovers." Adams goes for a Trane-like tone and flurries in his solo but still crams in a few too many notes, Scofield smoothly picks up the solo thread, and Pullen goes off with cluster swirls before bringing it back home. "Song Everlasting" features a mellifluous tenor melody before Pullen takes over, followed by Adams and Scofield, both sounding far better playing at these more relaxed tempos. Live at Montmarte isn't all it could have been, but sometimes things just don't happen. It sounds like Scofield and the group never found a truly comfortable common ground. They don't clash, but it never feels like they're totally in synch, either, at least not enough to reach the greater-than-the-sum-of-the-quartet-with-guest-soloist-parts level. The live albums by the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet, itself, are better choices -- as are most of the other strong discs that the group released on Timeless during the '80s when the U.S. jazz industry didn't want to know.
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