The prologue of the November echoes of the JazzFest in Brno was Wednesday's concert of a four-member star formation around guitarist John Scofield. Their five-week European tour promoting the new album Country For Old Men released in September of this year continued in the Sono Centrum.
For Scofield and his various concert bands, a bet on Brno is nothing risky or new. Just within the Jazzfest, he performed in Brno for the third time and both previous projects, Überjam twelve years ago and the acoustic JS Quartet in 2010, captured the Brno audience. This year's concept of the album built on the American country&western-style hit songs was somewhat controversial at first glance. Already the very first (albeit friendly and mostly positive) American critics mentioned a certain conservative nature of the jazz and country audiences towards the sporadic fusion of both seemingly incompatible genres. The melodic country songs and artists (Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain), from whose repertoires Scofield chose, are something sacred for most Americans. These two genres do not share too many fans in Central Europe (especially in Bohemia and Moravia, lands promised to traditional country and especially bluegrass). The expectations were therefore so much greater.
However, John Scofield is 64 and knows that he can afford to do what others could only hardly do. The guitarist does not waste or unnecessarily downplay similar inspiration. On his pioneering path inspired by country and western, he had well-respected predecessors such as Gary Burton (CD Country Roads, 1969), and Bill Frisell (CD Nashville, 1997). However, he sees himself as a successor of Bob Wills, singer and composer, pioneer of the so-called western swing who became famous in the 1940s - 1960s. Scofield considers appropriate selection of songs that would not be hurt by a jazz disguise but instead would be enriched by it to be the main difficulty of a similar fusion. He intentionally chose not instrumental traditionals, but actual songs based on communicative lyrics. He spent hours listening to the original recordings to manage to transform the distinctive nuances of the singer's style into the language of jazz. All messages contained in the lyrics of the original songs transform into melodic and harmonic lines and colours in their jazz versions. And it showed during the concert that a remarkable result is not based solely on a frontman with a guitar.
The actual album contains a dozen songs and true hits of several decades of American C&W. However, as evidenced by the stage playlist, listeners in Serbia, Austria, Italy and Spain can look forward to more than just a live version of what was recorded in the studio. Two thirds of the nearly 90-minute concert set interrupted by several of Scofield's speeches consist of the repertoire of the CD and three or four extra songs. In Brno, the four-member combo of jazz soloists par excellence offered an improvisation on the song Mr. Fool by George Jones as a warm-up. Besides John Scofield with the electric guitar, there was a duo of sidemen - drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Steve Swallow, and Larry Goldings was alternating between the Hammond organ and the piano on the left wing.
The concert ran like clockwork after the introduction. A new song not included on the album soon came (it was the premiere as mentioned by Scofield in a comment on his Facebook profile) – the love song You Win Again by Hank Williams. This was followed by the train hit by Carter Family or Roy Acuff Wabash Cannonball, which became popular in the Czechoslovak Republic in the 1970s due to Ladislav Vodička and the Country Beat (Steve Swallow excellently "beat out" the funny ostinato and Bill Stewart performed a drum solo). This was followed by The Gambler by Don Schlitz, who became famous in the West by the voice of Kenny Rogers and in our country through the excellent lyrics by Zdeněk Rytíř sung by Petr Spálený. And then they played according to the record for a minute again: a fabulous jazz remake of Dolly Patron's hit song Jolene (with a dominant bass guitar solo by Steve Swallow), a tribute to Bob Williams Faded Love, the sorrowful atmosphere of Hank Williams' hit song I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, the jazz phrased Wayfaring Stranger and more recent inspiration by the original song by singer Shania Twain You're Still the One. And finally came the symbolic memory of the Carter Family and Mamma Maybelle – Wildwood Flower. The whole concert thrived with musical ideas of the perfectly orchestrated and connected musical quartet. They approached the country classics with evident but not exaggerated respect. Additionally, they had a potential never seen in country bands before: a pair of concerted sidemen playing the drums and bass that accompanied without undue exhibitions, in the background, matter-of-factly, but with imagination. And they added terrific solos at the right moment. Steve Swallow, the most experienced of the quartet on stage and Scofield's companion of many years, was the most significant figure in the concert for many listeners. Inventive jazz improvisions with apparent hints of swing, in which John Scofield gave sufficient space to his partner in soloing Larry Goldings in addition to his own geysers of joyful music making, was growing from the solid roots of honest backside. Goldings sensitively switches between the Hammond organ and the piano depending on the atmosphere of the song. All action on stage was supported by the excellent work of the sound engineer (only the bass solos could have been pulled higher in some areas).
If the album title (paraphrasing the opposite of the Coen brothers' film No Country For Old Men) was meant ironically referring to the average age of this group (country music for old men), then the Brno concert of John Scofield and his companions confirmed that there are no forbidden paths and inventiveness has no boundaries of age or musical genres.