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By: Paul Kerr
Photography by Jerry Friend
John Scofield is the great shapeshifting chameleon of jazz guitar. He's delivered signature thick and distorted guitar improvisations over ever-changing beds of jazz styles on dozens of recordings over the last 40 years, including explorations and pilgrimages into bop, fusion, gospel, funk, acoustic and soul . From his work with Charles Mingus in the '70s to Miles Davis in the '80s and Medeski, Martin & Wood in the '90s and beyond, he never stops evolving and barely ever rests, playing 200 gigs a year around the globe.
His latest expedition is an homage to American country music called Country For Old Men, which opened its winter tour at the cozy ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC. He tore into two sets of fiercely energetic reimaginings of classic country songs alongside three dynamic virtuosos helping translate and transgress. Scofield's brilliant bends and warbles were perfectly augmented by the phenomenal piano and organ of Sullivan Fortner, the profound intensity of Vicente Archer's standup bass, and the gracefully imaginative drumming of longtime comrade Bill Stewart. The accompanying album entered the jazz charts at #4 and is nominated for a 2017 Grammy award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
The first set included cherished gems such as Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," a balladic take on James Taylor's "Bartender's Blues," an expansive and explosive rendition of the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger" and even a spoken word poetic interpretation of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried." After a brief intermission, the musical mashup continued with a blistering version of Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler", a gorgeous adaptation of Shania Twain's "You're Still the One," and hard-swinging takes on Hank Williams' "You Win Again" and the Carter Family's "Wildwood Flower."
The standing ovation left no doubt that Scofield's instincts remain rock solid several decades into his career. His ability to distill the music he loves into his own vision and sound has never been stronger, and longtime fans remain thrilled to see which new avenues he'll venture down next.
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