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JAZZ NOTES

Scofield's 'Hand' Revamps Funky Sound

October 07, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Remember those '60s and '70s funky jazz hits like Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" and Les McCann's and Eddie Harris' "Compared to What"? These were tunes that had a rollicking R&B bounce that was coupled with sophisticated jazz improvisation, pleasing both listeners' heads and their feet.

Guitarist John Scofield, whose sound can crackle like a live wire loose on the ground, was a big fan of that style and thought it could use a '90s revamping, which is exactly what he did on his new Blue Note album, "Hand Jive."

"I wanted to do something that was soulful," says Scofield, who leads his quartet Tuesday through Oct. 18 at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. "This style was pre-fusion, where you had an R&B element that is very swinging that jazz players can expand on. And it had pretty much disappeared," even though everyone from Miles Davis to Charles Lloyd had given their take on it.

The punchy-lined, swinging Scofield has long been a blues enthusiast--some of his first successes were blues-based tunes like "Cissy Strut"--so his new album treads some familiar turf. But the Dayton, Ohio, native makes it clear that tunes like "I'll Take Les," a nod to McCann, and "Do Like Eddie," which honors Harris--who plays on the album--aren't simply regurgitated throwbacks.

"This is past music, yes, but my version of it," he says. "When you go up on the stand to re-create, it's always a failure. What you want to do is create. It's those things that are not quite what you had in mind that really work out. That's the special stuff, the stuff that gets developed. When you play with creative musicians and without a lot of expectations, they'll be patient and create something new each night."

Scofield has one of the best crews in jazz, built around drum ace Bill Stewart and stalwart bassist Dennis Irwin, and abetted by Larry Goldings on piano and organ. The band's been together about a year, formed last fall after saxman Joe Lovano left the guitarist's employ after a four-year stint. While Scofield misses his ex-front-liner, he feels he's got a great thing going with Goldings.

"Larry's not only into be-bop, he can play funky and he can play free," he says. "And, unlike a lot of pianists, he doesn't cover everything when he's accompanying me. He always thinks in a group sense."

After Lovano departed, Scofield didn't want another saxophonist, so he auditioned pianists, finally selecting Goldings. He says having a piano gives him harmonic support, and, since there's no saxophone, he's now the lead voice, and that's exciting. "It makes me feel like I'm the singer, or the saxophonist, and there's a trio behind me," he says. "It allows me to leave a lot of space."

The guitarist stresses that at Catalina he won't just play material from his new record, and will include older originals and some be-bop classics like Charlie Parker's "Big Foot." "I want to cover all the bases," he says. Information: (213) 466-2210.

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Guitar Redux: Mark Whitfield made three albums for Warner Bros., but he was starting to get bugged at the label's insistence that he venture into pop-oriented directions. "I said to myself, 'This is enough.' I want to play jazz. This is not what I want to do," Whitfield says, referring to "Patrice" and "Mark Whitfield," his second and third albums for Warners. "My goal has always been to travel the world playing jazz."

So when the guitarist with the resilient, straw-colored sound got a chance to sign with Verve Records and make a purely mainstream album, he jumped in with both feet. Whitfield, who plays Wednesday at the House of Blues, has just released "True Blue," a collection of blues-based pieces that spotlights saxman Branford Marsalis, pianist Kenny Kirkland and drummer Jeff Watts.

"I just wanted to write some music that would be bluesy, that would swing and that would bring the most out of those musicians," he says of "True Blue." "I was anxious to hear what they would do and they pushed me to new heights."

Whitfield appears at House of Blues with his quartet, featuring Victor Atkins, piano; Roland Guerin, bass, and Donald Edwards, drums. Information: (213) 650-0247.

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