John Scofield Quartet

By Bob Bahr

Joe Lovano.

John Scofield was the leader of the band that blew away Jim Porter's Good Time Emporium on September 18, and his playing was accordingly brilliant. But the big man blowing the heck out of the tenor sax stole the show.

Joe Lovano isn't a fast player who is lost on ballads, nor is he a slow player lacking the chops to play fast. He isn't necessarily blues-based, yet he's not disconnected from the blues. He isn't about any of that.

John Scofield

Lovano is an artist who has found a pure and emotional way to communicate with the audience. His message is undoubtedly different to everyone; to me it was a screaming plea for understanding, a wailing attempt to reach the listener in a pure way. Nearly every Lovano solo built quickly into an upper register sax blowout, full of not so much anger but struggle, with perhaps a touch of frustration. "Can't you see?" he seemed to say, hoisting his sax high above his chest, then wagging it between his knees.

When he soloed, Lovano was the focal point of the fusion energy, but the rest of the quartet more than held their own over the course of the two-hour-plus concert. Each performer -- Scofield on electric guitar, Lovano on tenor sax,Marc Johnson on acoustic bass andBill Stewart on drums -- had ample time to stretch out and prove their mastery over their respective instrument. If the first set had the audience shaking their head in disbelief of the music's beauty and power, the second set had them grinning and nodding their head in affirmation.

The first song, "Big Fan," started with Scofield and Lovano playing the melody in unison, followed by the first solo by Scofield. Immediately, the music built up steam. Johnson's face never showed emotion, but his bass lines seethed with intensity, throwing on the coals. Stewart egged on the soloers further, sometimes distracting the listener with a particularly vicious drum fill.

Throughout everyone's solos, Stewart was putting on a virtual drum clinic. Sometimes as busy as aJack DeJohnette but rarely intrusive, Stewart had so much to say, and he said it quite well. Stewart was perfectly showcased when he and Scofield traded fours for a spell that couldn't last long enough for me. And perhaps because the bass was mixed down a bit too low, the forms of the songs usually seemed to rest in Stewart's hands.

The quartet kept the heat up even through songs that began relatively down tempo. The result was a ferocious form of bop, bowing and flexing within the interactions of the four musicians. If Scofield and Co. were taking the nearly full house on a rollercoaster ride, the cars peaked over a free jazz hill with a number called "That's Mr. Coleman To You."

The homage toOrnette Coleman started off latin-tinged, then descended into fusion hell with Lovano's breathtaking solo. The sax man in the big white shirt even managed to fire up the staid Johnson, provoking the bassist's most spirited solo of the night. Scofield reminded us why it's called guitar playing with his imaginative comping, often pulling percussive and generally unusual sounds and chords from his electric guitar. Scofield's distinctive guitar sound was everywhere, running down lines, starting, stopping, matching the quickness of his mind in his musical explorations.

A standing ovation brought the band out for an encore of one more song. The quartet played a mellow tune, a sweet and nice ballad to calm the excited crowd down a bit. The last solos, especially Lovano's, were all eloquence and gentle blues.