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Joe Lovano

John Scofield

Matt Penman

Bill Stewart

Photos by Rudy Lu

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Swyer Theatre @ the Egg
Albany, NY
January 30, 2011

by J Hunter

Here’s how I knew I was in for a treat last Sunday night: Rather than introduce the show, as he usually does, Egg impresario Peter Lesser stepped into the Swyer through the farthest exit door on the left side of the audience. As the lights went down, Lesser leaned against the wall and folded his arms, a big smile on his face. Oh yeah, I thought, this is going to be big.

Not that there was much doubt. Anyone who’s been to the last two Albany Riverfront Jazz Festivals are well aware of the instrumental acrobatics John Scofield and Joe Lovano are capable of individually. And it’s not like this is the first time these two have played together: Recording collaborations go back to Scofield’s 1990 release Time On My Hands (Blue Note), and a quick search on Amazon will reveal several import discs that look pretty damn scrumptious. So yeah, the odds of this show being a clunker were pretty slim. And then the show started, and “slim” shrunk down to “zip.”

Lovano began his own composition “Fort Worth” in the clear, with Scofield chording softly underneath. There was a little bit of mournful in Lovano’s meditation, but then he found a repeating figure that drummer Bill Stewart and Matt Penman latched onto, and the groove was well and truly formed. Scofield took off from Lovano’s melody, diving into a solo only he could make. It was jazz, and it was rock, and it worked perfectly. Matt Penman’s bass amp was out of commission, but his usual resonance still made him heard as he took it right down the middle, while drummer Bill Stewart dropped little bombs here and there. Then Lovano stepped up and tore it up with a message from that special place in Lovanoland where howling and screaming sounds like absolute poetry.

If you think about it, nobody else sounds like these two players. No matter what Scofield does, you know it’s him playing – and the great thing is, he doesn’t dominate the music, or let the music dominate him: He simply “adopts” what he plays and makes it sound like always played it in that joyous, fuzz-toned way. That was how it went at the Swyer whether he was playing Thelonious Monk’s staggering bebopper “Hackensack”, John Coltrane’s aching ballad “Theme for Ernie”, or one of his own pieces like “Since You Asked.” With Lovano, it’s less about the technical and more about the personal, as he funnels everything he feels through whatever reed instruments he’s brought along. This made for some titanic passages throughout the two-set night, with his highlights being the two set-closers, the bluesy “Let the Cat Out” and the borderline-insane “Kwang.” On the latter tune, Lovano played a fusillade that made Scofield’s jaw drop into a huge smile that silently said Oh HELL yeah!

Matt Wilson played drums for Scofield at Albany Riverfront, which should have put Stewart at a big disadvantage. But Stewart is Scofield’s regular drummer, and the rapport they share is even tighter than the chemistry Scofield shares with Lovano. Stewart knows how to do “Go big or go home”, as he demonstrated on the freestyle “Petals Out,” but he could also made art with a single brush during Penman’s solo on “Ernie.” Penman overcame his early amplification problems to provide the stellar foundation he’s famous for, as well as more proof that he’s one of the most lyrical soloists to pick up a bass fiddle. It all ended with the quartet playing Old School (aka pre-electric) Miles Davis bebop, all of them taking pleasure in the music and each other.

The respect Lovano and Scofield have for each other can be seen from space, and there were moments during this show that could probably be heard from space, as well. They also appreciated the respect the full house gave them. “Thank you for coming… and listening,” Scofield told us. Hey, it wasn’t hard.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.