After the carefully constructed Bump, Überjam, and Up All Night, its nice to hear John Scofield returning as a leader to flat-out improvisation on his newest disc, En Route. Scofields new trio, which includes the eminent Steve Swallow on bass and relative youngster Bill Stewart on drums, comes out of the gate with speed and elegance on Denzil Bests "Wee." These three players have tremendous rapport -- Swallow has played with Scofield off and on since the early '70s, and Stewart has appeared on a number of Scofields recordings since 1990. Scofields talent for writing hummable melodies is prominent on "Toogs" and "Hammock Soliloquy," but nothing on En Route is simple ear candy. Everybody burns.
Robben Ford is often thought of as a blues guitarist, and hes often featured at blues festivals. While hes certainly a blues-based player, his style owes as much to the fusion guitarists of the '70s (especially Jeff Beck) as to any other approach. Hes the guitarist in Jing Chi, which includes drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and bassist Jimmy Haslip, who produced 3D. The chops fly here, but after indulging themselves on the opening track, "Colonel Panic," the three settle in for some searing, melody-driven jazz-rock. Some guests join them, including Robert Cray, who does a smoking vocal and guitar turn on the atmospheric "Its Nobodys Fault but Mine." Everybody on 3D is playing at full capacity, and often at full speed, but you wont mind a bit.
Sheryl Bailey is not as well known as the other two guitarists here, but she should be. Bailey has a wonderful ear for melody, and her tone is warm and inviting, yet she plays with power and drive. Bulls Eye is her fourth disc, her second with Gary Versace and Ian Froman. The three of them expand the concept of the guitar/organ-based trio without sacrificing the soulful swing that makes the format so enjoyable. The live-in-the-studio recording on Bulls Eye is sharply focused, and the three players show a keen anticipation of each others needs. Bailey writes melodies that are intelligent and memorable, and they provide a firm foundation for unpredictable, fiery improvisation by all three musicians. Baileys love of melody and her enthusiasm for playing give her music an air of grace and life affirmation that are unique and, in these times, essential. There isnt another jazz guitarist I watch with more anticipation. Her talent grows with each disc.
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