"Post-bop jazz" is the way guitarist John Scofield likes to describe his mainstream-style playing. It's a contrast to the side of his musical persona associated with what he calls his "funky band."
On Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, it was the post-bop Scofield ensemble that, for the most part, showed up. The exception was in the final number of the opening set, a groove-driven tribute to tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris.
By the time Scofield's lengthy program reached that point, the light-hearted buoyancy of his funky band was a welcome arrival. That particular mode may be lacking musical depth, but its repetitive rhythms at least provided the full-house audience with some connective links into the music.
Before that point, the Scofield quartet roved through a series of mostly original compositions--the exception being the Gershwin standard "Soon"--filled with protracted improvisational passages. Scofield is a superb guitarist, and his partner in the front line, tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, is a facile technician with excellent control of the extended top range of his instrument.
But neither the harmonic schemes of the music (with the exception of "Soon," of course) nor the patterns of the rhythmic foundation offered much in the way of orientation for listeners. A good part of the experience of hearing and enjoying jazz is associated with the conscious, or unconscious, awareness of the musical reference points supporting improvisations. This is why standard songs have long provided such useful source material for jazz players (and listeners).
Scofield's pieces offered few comparable qualities. His "Mrs. Scofield's Waltz," the most laid-back of his originals, had the benefit of a melody constructed from sequential phrases. Most of the other pieces were abstract, high-speed romps, followed by soloing consisting primarily of virtuosic technical displays.
The bright spot of the evening was generated by the drumming of Bill Stewart, whose contributions--in rhythm section tandem with bassist Jesse Murphy as well as his own always intriguing soloing--were the product of a musical ability imaginative enough to transcend both labels and genres.
* The John Scofield Quartet at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Tonight and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., $20 cover. Tonight and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 p.m., $18. Two-drink minimum. (323) 466-2210.