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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Scofield

Piety Street (Emarcy)

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One can never know quite what to expect from guitarist John Scofield: traditional quartet bop here, straight soul jazz groove there, maybe a smattering of avant-garde otherness. A guest-laden tribute of Ray Charles covers? Why not? His latest finds the guitarist in a new mood altogether-that of Sunday morning testifying.

New Orleans-brewed and -recorded, Piety Street takes listeners through two originals and 11 covers of old-time gospel, traditional spirituals and other funky, sanctified workouts. Restrained and understated, this is far different from the snarky wizardry of when he fronted Medeski Martin & Wood and rehashed the acid fusion of The Tony Williams Lifetime.

Set to a laid-back stride, the slinky strut of Dorothy Love Coates' "That's Enough" claims "I got Jesus," and the traditional soul of "Walk With Me" pleads "walk with me, Lord." Even Scofield's own "It's a Big Army" lends the aura of a hands-in-the-air, tent-revival meeting. With the groove kept so effortlessly down-home, the entire session genuinely harkens the days where dancing and rejoicing were one and the same action.

And if the guitarist's musical ADD is what keeps every new album so fresh, it's that unmistakable tone that makes all his work of an identifiable, booty-shaking piece. Such is the case here, where in turns Scofield's cries and moans call upon a spirit just a bit different from those generally associated with blues and jazz. Piety Street acts as that perfect bridge between Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.