NEW YORK (AP) — Jazz guitarist John Scofield went back to the future on his Grammy-nominated CD “Past Present,” reuniting members of his acclaimed quartet from the early 1990s to play his new compositions.
Though nominated twice before, the 64-year-old Scofield has never won a Grammy. But at the Feb. 15 awards ceremony in Los Angeles, he’s up for two Grammys — for best jazz instrumental album and best improvised jazz solo for the CD’s title track, which the guitarist describes as “futuristic blues.”
Scofield credits his wife and manager, Susan, for coming up with the album’s title, which he says has multiple meanings.
Most of the compositions were written when Scofield’s son, Evan, a writer and poet, returned to the family’s home in Katonah, New York, while undergoing treatment for sarcoma, a cancer that claimed his life at age 26 in 2013.
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The soul-jazz “Get Proud” and the breezy “Enjoy the Future!” take their titles from his son’s favorite catchphrases. The mid-tempo ballad “Mr. Puffy” refers to a humorous nickname Evan used to describe his bloated appearance after chemotherapy.
“He’s in the past but he’s always present with me,” said Scofield. “I feel his essence because he’s a part of me.”
To play his compositions Scofield reassembled his mostly acoustic quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Bill Stewart, which combined post-bop jazz with blues, funk and R&B, a departure from his electronic jazz-funk fusion groups of the 1980s. Bassist Larry Grenadier replaced Dennis Irwin, who died of cancer in 2008.
“We do have this shared past, but it doesn’t feel like retro to me,” Scofield said in a telephone interview. “It’s very much in the present when we play together. We’re playing the same kind of music we were trying to play back then but we’ve gotten better at it.”
Scofield and Lovano first got together in the early 1970s when they were students at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. The guitarist likened playing with Lovano to his feeling when performing with Miles Davis from 1982-85, calling it “music communication on the highest level.”
“John plays with a lot of feeling, he’s soulful, funky and it’s happening,” said Lovano. “He’s one of the most swinging accompanists on guitar in the rhythm section. … But he’s also a front-line player playing the melody. It’s like playing with another horn player.”
Scofield has performed with Grateful Dead electric bassist Phil Lesh, the Southern rock band Government Mule and the avant-jazz-funk jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood as well as his own groups. His eclectic tastes are reflected on “Past Present” through compositions with catchy melodies — reflecting his affinity for pop music — that each have a distinctive flavor yet remain jazz.
The opener “Slinky” is funky but its 5/4 rhythm references the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s classic “Take Five.” ”Chap Dance” is an Americana melody that Scofield says was inspired by the “faux Western music” of the Broadway musical “Oklahoma!” It presages his next recording that will feature jazz versions of country hits, from George Jones’ “Just a Girl I Used to Know” to Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.”
Scofield says the title “Past Present” also has a deeper meaning reflecting the essence of jazz: “We have to be absolutely in the present in order to have the music be spontaneous and feel like jazz, but everything we play is rooted in the past because it’s a shared language and you have to know the music’s history.”
Follow Charles J. Gans at www.twitter.com/chjgans