Scofield, Stern come together to make some great jazz
John Scofield and Mike Stern come from the same school of jazz, but obviously hung out in some different classrooms.
At the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side on Saturday, the two played in what they call the Hollowbody Band and showed strong cohesiveness in their presentation of their music — even if they also produced greatly different sounds.
Stern has a powerful metallic sound that seems to float in the upper tier of tones while Scofield has a deeper, heavier sound that fits his blues-based playing greatly
That difference showed immediately in their solos on the opening “How Deep is the Ocean”, but was never more clear than on “Moonlight in Vermont”. Stern opened the ballad with a long solo spot that was crisp in its metal sound. At the end, Scofield offered a long, unaccompanied, cadenza-like exploration of the theme that fit his tone.
They also took striking difference in their backup play. Stern would offer broad chords that drew great notice in the number of notes comprising them. Scofield, at the other end, would comp in simpler, short phrases.
But the music they produced fit each other and the rest of the band so well, the differences were positive elements that enriched the sound.
They also paid close attention to each other, seeming sometimes surprised at the direction the other was taking.
The richness in their play also showed in the songs they did. Their version of “How Deep is the Ocean” never came close to stating its melody, existing only in its chord pattern. The result was a song that you would not recognize, but yet worked perfectly. “Like That But Better” was a Scofield original with a bluesy sound while “Slinky” had a taste of 21st Century bebop.
When the band was called back for an encore, it did “Season Creep,” a mellow piece Scofield said he wrote in 2012 to reflect the quick move from winter into spring.
While the two guitarists were the headliners of the show, drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Ben Street were a great rhythm section. Stewart works frequently with Scofield in a trio that features bassist Steve Swallow and obviously knows his music well. He is a powerful drummer, but can back off effectively as he did with brushes on “Moonlight in Vermont.”
With Scofield and Stern playing electric guitars, it would have seemed proper to have Street on electric bass. But he did fine on his acoustic upright, perhaps toning down the sound a bit.
By the way, despite the name of the band, both guitarists played instruments with solid bodies. Scofield said he put the band together for an earlier date to feature hollow-bodied guitars and a pure jazz sound. But Stern wanted to play a solidbody guitar, and Scofield accepted.
Right name or not, the band gets the job done.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.