Jazz guitarist John Scofield’s foray into funk rhythms continues to produce some of the most fun, ingratiating and intriguing music around today. Joining forces with members of brainy avant-rock groove bands such as Soul Coughing and Deep Banana Blackout for his latest Verve CD, “Bump,” Scofield has taken his compositional sense of texture to a new level of sophistication without losing the funky beat. In live performance, with the intensity several notches higher, his band produces joyful sounds that beg your feet to move while charming the mind too.
Unlike so many guitarists, Scofield isn’t interested in virtuosic solos that overwhelm with technique and speed. His solos are shaped carefully; often he sets up a brief riff, expands it and plays variations on it, then uses a battery of distortion effects to take it into new territory or create a surprising climax.
The effect on a longer tune, such as the seven-minute plus “Chichon,” can be completely beguiling as he moves seamlessly from funky to ethereal.
“Bump” expands on the use of funk rhythms that Scofield explored on his previous Verve release, “A Go Go,” which teamed him with soul-jazz group Medeski , Martin and Wood. The beat is often some variation of the irresistible James Brown “Funky Drummer” backbeat. Of course, Scofield isn’t blazing an entirely new path here, but he is bringing both a new sensitivity and his own almost dada use of wildly varying guitar sounds to the mix.
On “Beep Beep,” for instance, Scofield limned the melody with echo effects straight from the soundtrack of a cheap ’50s sci-fi flick. As the tune turned lyrical, he switched to a cleaner sound. But he played his solo with a wah-wah effect that was pure ’70s Sly Stone. On another tune he turned from the poetic country-rock melody to solo with a sound that can only be described as a combination of violin, trumpet and baby sitar. At first listen, Scofield’s use of these disparate sounds can be befuddling; once the ear adjusts, the tension the different colors create can be quite exciting.