It was the summer of 2000. I had just left playing bass in a funk band called Celebrity Hottub (yes, named from a SNL Eddie Murphy skit called James Brown’s Celebrity Hottub) and had decided to take a break from bass playing in general and spend some time concentrating on another of my musical loves: jazz guitar. So with the blessing of my wife (one of the many billlions of reasons why I love her so), I enrolled for a week long jazz guitar seminar at the National Guitar Workshop. The featured event of the seminar was a masterclass by John Scofield. While I was familiar with Scofield’s playing from his days with Miles Davis (I particularly liked the stuff he did on Miles’ Star People) and had heard his mid 80’s records on Gramavision records, I couldn’t say I was a a particular fan of Scofield. I wasn’t yet familiar with the record he had made with Medeski, Martin & Wood (A Go Go on Verve from 1998). His being at the National Guitar Workshop was incidental to my decision to go. So when I saw that Scofield was playing at the Prospect Park bandshell as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn series of concerts just a couple of weeks before the workshop, I figured it would be cool to check him out. One of the better decisions I ever made.
I knew something was up from the beginning when the first thing I heard was these strange sampled sounds that eventually morphed into an almost techno sounding electronic drum groove. Scofield began to solo alone over the drum groove until the bass and rhythm guitar entered and the electronic drums were replaced with regular drums. The music was funky but not in some antiseptic “smooth jazz” manner. There was a down and dirty, almost garage band vibe to it. Scofield’s playing was fluid but with a bluesey edge to it and he wasn’t hesitant about throwing in some dissonant “outside” lines. The music was groove oriented but not in some simplistic manner. The tunes had an interesting asymmetrical quality to them that somehow managed to balance itself out. It was jazz fusion meets jam band meets such EDM (electronic dance music) sub genres as techno, drum and bass and dub. I had never heard anything like it before and immediately knew that it was something I was waiting to hear even if I didn’t know it. I was smitten.
The secret weapon for this band is Avi Bortnick on rhythm guitar and samples. He is the glue who hold all the music together and provides the rhythmic and harmonic bed over which Scofield can fly over. He also supplies electronic sampled sounds (triggered from a laptop) that give the band unique tone colors that I never heard in a jazz fusion band. In fact, Bortnick provided the moment when I truly fell in love with this band when, at about the ten minute mark, the band drops out, except for Bortnick, who then grooves for several minutes alone. With the help of some delay and a sixteenth notes right hand groove that couldn’t stop and wouldn’t stop, he tore the roof off the sucka!
The last song of the show was one one that Scofield introduced as a new one they just wrote while on tour in Germany called Uberjam. This became the title track for the band’s first album and also became the moniker by which this Scofield project became known. The band released two records, Uberjam in 2002 and Up All Night in 2003 before going on hiatus and then releasing Uberjan Duex in 2013. While I couldn’t find any video from 2000 – 2003, there are several videos from the 2013 tour supporting Duex. The one below is the full set from the All Good Music Festival in Ohio from July, 2013. Enjoy.
John Scofield Uberjam Band – All Good Music Festival 7-19-13 Thornville, OH
When I think about my favorite concerts, the ones that made a truly memorable impact on me, it’s amazing how many of them were free summer concerts in the parks on NYC. This was definitely one of them.
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