The show opened, and there was John Scofield with a Telecaster and Avi Bortnick with a Stratocaster along with a table of sampling machines. Bortnick used the the rig to conjure surging organ sounds during their Afrobeat-indoctrinated tune “Snake Dance.” Tying a perfect knot in the groove machine was the almost tuba-like sound elicited by Andy Hess’ P-bass and Ampeg rig. It’s the kind of sound that just blasts out nice and fat without remorse. Bortnick’s clave samples chugged along in a click-click while Scofield’s guitar led the way on this sound safari.
“And now we’d like to play ‘Cracked Ice’ from our new album Überjam Deux, Scofield said.
A funky guitar sample led the groove, and Tony Mason cracked along on a high-pitched snare drum. Multiple breakdowns showcased Scofield playing solo with only drums backing him up, which ultimately proved to be an effective device throughout the evening. The second main section of the piece featured a kind of house-style electronic jam groove that was set off by a series of tape-delayed rhythm guitar strokes from Bortnick. After the excitement of the groove, Mason and Hess dropped out to leave a very clean-toned Scofield and Bortnick with some reversed guitar loops and samples.
“That was another new one by Avi and I,” Scofield said. “It was inspried by Al Green, so we call it ‘Al Green Song,’ and we may have copied an Al Green song but we’re not sure which one,” he said jokingly. This tune was great for showing off Scofield’s conversational tendencies: always leaving plenty of space, listening, and mouthing along as he played as if he was eliciting the sounds of his guitar with his own voice. As the main melody picked up again, the groove became a medium-tempo reggae that made me think of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.”
“Curtis Knew” was another piece inspired by a late soul singer. It also began with a sample from Bortnick—this time a fresh finger snap/clave kind of sound that grooved cool before bringing it way up just like Curtis Mayfield said with his tune “Move on Up.”
It could be that the album Überjam Deux has greater depth than the original that came out a decade ago, or it could be that John Scofield knows himself better after that extended period of time and has had many chances to continue experimenting as an artist. This time around, the visionary has a better view of the vision. This particular group that performed Sunday night was able to create an atmosphere that was attended and enjoyed by people of all ages. It is music that is made for connecting people of all different stripes. It features styles that are as current as you can get with expertise that has been earned over years of collaboration with other incredible musicians.
The mix of old and new is what really made the live experience so special though. The group played “I Brake 4 Monster Booty” and “Jungle Fiction” from the original Überjam just to prove that it was still more than cool to rock that stuff.