In the late '70s, a handful of jazz-rock guitarists reigned supreme: Al Dimeola, Larry Coryell, Pat Metheny and John Scofield. Like the Fab Four, only two remain, at least where most jazz buyers are concerned. Al is off making world music fodder and Larry last showed up on the Count's Jam Band, a hardy fusion retread with drummer Steve Smith and saxman Steve Marcus.
Meanwhile, Metheny and Scofield have gone from strength to strength. Metheny, with various incarnations of the Pat Metheny Group, which has taken on Vietnamese music, drum and bass, hip hop and its trademark flying-across-the-cornfields super time-traveling space bop. Scofield has upped the ante even more. Though stuck in a retro-hard bop mold in the '80s, his collaborations with Medeski, Martin and Wood have led to a whole new fan base that equates his skronchy jazz with the hacky-sack tribe that includes Lake Trout, Phish and (bleeccch) Blues Traveler.
The guitarists have also grown as musicians and composers. While many listeners simply ignore Metheny, he never fails to turn in atmospheric tunes with blazing solos, and his records are very well recorded with huge soundstages. Scofield's albums are less fantastic sonically, but their intimacy highlights his band's knock-down, drag-out interplay.
Metheny's Speaking of Now is his first with an all new band, featuring drummer Antonio Sanchez (Danilo Perez, Avishai Cohen), downtown trumpeter Cuong Vu, and African vocalist Richard Bona. Similar to earlier albums such as Bright Size Life or the debut PMG album, Speaking shows Metheny free of embellishment, with a dynamite band navigating his new tunes, which are influenced by a variety of Latin influences. Metheny sounds reinvigorated: blowing hot bop solos on the groove-juggling "Proof," negotiating the epic liftoff of "A Place in The World" and even exploring a sitar approach for "Wherever You Go." This album takes longer to grasp than Metheny's previous Imaginary Day -- the sound is closer to that of a small jazz club than a large concert hall.
Scofield's Uberjam also finds him with a new band of young'uns, including drummer Adam Deitch, guitarist Avi Bortnick and Medeski along on Mellotron(!). The band also gets arranging credit for all the songs, which is not surprising, as they prod, pull, yank and shove Scofield in a million different directions. The Meters remain the template, but with Scofield barely maintaining control, the band spits and blasts through freeform drum and bass ("Jungle Fiction"), nasty hip hop ("Brake 4 Booty"), bluesy country jigs ("Tomorrowland"), bucket-of-funk blowouts and freak breakbeat ("Uberjam"). You could call this Still Warm or Electric Outlet. part II, the '80s albums where Scofield was at his most funky. Only now, the musicians are more influenced by DJ Shadow, Roni Size and Jay Z than Lee Morgan, Art Blakey or even Weather Report. Uberjam upends John Scofield as we know him, allowing his band full reign to kick his old gray ass.
Metheny's Speaking of Now takes nowhere near the number of risks as Uberjam, but Metheny's muse, at least within the PMG, has always been more about composition than Scofield's. Dr. Sco has never written anything as melodically memorable as "Are You Going with Me" (Offramp) or "Last Train Home" (Letter from Home) or "So May it Secretly Begin" (Still Life Talking). But his free-form approach often yields more funk excitement. They are two different animals, and they continue to make very different music. Their spice is as hot as ever; they just use it in different ways.
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