John Scofield

Piety Street

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As a leader, guitarist, and composer John Scofield has made many different kinds of records over the course of his long career, as well as played on dozens more as a sideman to people like Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, to mention just two. His last offering, and his first for Emarcy, was This Means That, an adventurous blend of straight-ahead blowing and funk-oriented numbers that worked beautifully and yielded a slew of critical acclaim. Piety Street is a different story altogether. Scofield has assembled a crack band of more roots and groove-oriented sidemen to cut his version of a gospel album. He's backed by keyboardist and vocalist Jon Cleary (from Bonnie Raitt's fine road band), New Orleans super bassist George Porter, Jr., drummer Ricky Fataar (also of the Raitt band), Crescent City club band session vocalist John Boutté (whose singing is a staple of the city's vibrant music scene), and New Orleans drummer and percussionist Shannon Powell (formerly of the Harry Connick Orchestra). There are 13 cuts on Piety Street, ranging from well-known gospel standards such as " Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," "Walk with Me," and "I'll Fly Away" to classics within the genre, such as Dorothy Love Coates' "That's Enough," and "99 and a Half," the Rev. James Cleveland's "Something's Got a Hold on Me," and Thomas A. Dorsey's "Never Turn Back," with a couple of originals thrown in for measure. The temptation on a set like this to insert all sorts of improvisational touches, complex arrangements, and/or jamming opportunities is great, but to his credit, Scofield resists completely. These are songs and he treats them as such -- the vocalists are an obvious nod to this but the arrangements and instrumental interludes go even further. Everything from post-bop jazz, funk, blues, and reggae are grafted onto these songs and the transition is seamless. Scofield's own playing is ever present but understated, and Cleary and Porter are such an intensely focused rhythm team that their backdrops are drenched in grooves and soul. While it's true this is gospel music re-visioned by Scofield, it's still a gospel record, and carries within it the heart of that music's great traditions -- melody, complex harmonics, and lyricism. This is a winner all the way through.

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