A Technically Great Affair
Every now and then, noted blues and jazz guitarist John Scofield joins the famed “avant-groove” group Medeski Martin & Wood to put together a study on the complex but pleasant interplay between jazz, blues, funk and all sorts of points in between. The quarter are back together for Juice, a palette-cleansing, serene experience.
The group’s name comes off as law firm or some kind of consultancy, and the album in its own way reflects that; it’s a careful, deliberate and well-argued body of work not unlike the well-reasoned brief a lawyer might file in your nearest district court. The songs, influenced by the various polyrhythmic outpourings of Afro-Latin music, pop around all over the place with grooves and meandering guitar and bass parts. The keys often pepper the arrangement with driving punctuation, while the occasional guitar solo blows up ever so slightly, like on “Louis the Shoplifter” and “Helium.”
The album’s highlight is “Juicy Lucy,” built around a chord progression that recalls “Louie Louie.” The Hendrix-infused wah-wah guitar screams over a Miami-infused arrangement designed not only to move your mind but also your tuchus. A Hammond organ pops in with odes to Steve Windwood and 60s-era blue-eyed soul.
Speaking of that era, the second half of the record features at least three classic-rock covers: The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” and album closer, “Times They Are-A Changin’.” These are all interesting and fine. They play “Sunshine” as a dubby number straight out of Brixton. “Times” is slow, meditative and reverential, almost as if they’re trying to slow down the pace of change. “Light My Fire” trends toward the weakest of the bunch, seeming a bit out of place on a rather consistent record.
Overall, it doesn’t take long for the listener to grasp the sheer technical talent of the group. They all have been playing for dozens of years, and many of those together. They are a cohesive, brilliant bunch. But if someone is looking for risks and experimentation, Juice isn’t where he or she needs to be. This record is the pleasant nights, and not the quixotic, spontaneous ones.