Live Wire / Another day at the office
He is an outstanding musician, but it's hard to imagine John Scofield trying something new and unexpected. His concert this week was good, professional and a little forgettable.
John Scofield likes giving two-word names to his works. During his concert this week at the Israel Festival he played "Simply Put," "Still Warm," "Green Tea" and "Groove Elation." If you had to summarize Scofield's Jerusalem concert in two words, you could say "safe bet" or "solid investment."
Scofield, who was making his third visit to Israel in the past eight years, is one of the jazz guitar greats of recent decades. He is a terrific musician, his ensembles are usually among the best, he draws sizable crowds and it's hard to imagine a situation where a concert of his could flop. But, to the same extent, it's also hard to imagine him trying new, surprising and exciting things, and indeed his Israel Festival performance was good, professional and a little forgettable.
Scofield is a truly versatile artist and his repertoire at the Jerusalem Theater encompassed a broad range of bebop, blues, rhythm and blues and touches of fusion. One song, "Season Creep," was among the few that left an impression, perhaps because of its gentle lyricism, and perhaps because it is a new piece and isn't yet in Scofield's blood. "At the rehearsal today we played it for the first time, so be kind," Scofield told the audience, but it was completely unnecessary.
Scofield's quartet - with pianist Mike Eckroth, bassist Ben Street and drummer Bill Stewart - played well but with the ho-hum feeling of "another day at the office." The last time Scofield was here, three years ago, there was greater enthusiasm from his accompanists. That did not stop the audience from giving the group a long standing ovation at the end of the show, perhaps due to the influence of the encore, "The Guiness Spot," which was excellent.
In the past the Israel Festival was an important event on the jazz calendar, but it has lost that status in recent years. Jazz lovers no longer expect anything intriguing and exciting from it. But, really, why not? With all due respect to distinguished musicians like Scofield, perhaps it would be a good idea if next year the festival's directors would bring over more innovative jazz musicians - of which there is no shortage - instead of the usual standard fare.