5/20/2020

Jazz Review: John Scofield, Steve Swallow, & Bill Stewart - Swallow Tales

Release Date: June 05, 2020
Label: ECM Records
Website


According to his website bio, Scofield and his music lie “somewhere between post-bop, funk edged jazz, and R & B.” John Scofield has, over his 50 years within the industry, played with some of the biggest names in the music industry known to man. One of his biggest partnerships was with the late, great Miles Davis. This duo provided Scofield the capability to flourish from a springboard perspective into the spotlight of Jazz as both an instrumentalist and composer harmoniously. With his latest project Swallow Tales, the 68-year-old has not shown any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Steve Swallow, one of two partners on this album, is a jazz bassist and composer hailing from my home state of New Jersey,(who knew?) Swallow was one of the first bassists to switch up entirely to utilize an electric bass. Like his teammate, for more than 50 years, Steve has been writing and even educating youth at the Berklee College of Music. At 79, Steve is still contributing to upcoming works including Swallow Tales.

Bill Stewart is the mastermind behind the rhythm and beat of the newest album creation. If not for him, the record might lose a sense of excitement and anticipation that several of the tracks offer. As the youngest of the trio in this group, the 53-year-old collaborates once again with Scofield to impress upon new, upcoming artists incorporating his “polyrhythmic, or layered character” with that of their own new and inventive styles that they might develop in a quest to become a new “great” musician or artist of tomorrow.

In just a basic glance of the album’s artwork, Swallow Tales comes across as something one might listen to on that of the dreariest, dampest of days. Turning on the intro track, “She Was Young” reveals quite the opposite of mindsets. It’s cool, simple, film-like beginning lays the groundwork for an enjoyable nine-and-a-half minute electric guitar getaway. The flicks and picks amid the track keep the listener wondering where he might go next as he eases back into solemn, quiet playing.

“Falling Grace” is more of a somber tune but appealing nonetheless. Its shuffle-like sound and the consistent rise and fall structure throughout the playtime is a fun way to incorporate different techniques through the tracks. “Portsmouth Figurations” brings about a more-defined drum beat to change up the sound-alike chain of the prior two tracks, even if you can spot the differences. Instrumental pieces, often make it difficult to capture what separates one track from another, however, it is very-much still possible to do so.

“Awful Coffee” is most certainly apparent in its more mellow style, especially as the track opens. The track aligns very closely with the design and setup of the album’s artwork, where it might be best listened to within the confines of a darker room or under the haze of a gray, cloudy sky. “Eiderdown” blends quite seamlessly with its predecessor up until about the 2-minute mark where it differentiates with a rumble-like tone and more staccato-type form. The seven-minute tune avails more zig-zag maze imagery than the others heard so far as there does not seem to be one set theme in this track.

“Hullo Bolinas” brings the listener back down from a high of excitement and pop-infused playtime. The more elongated, allegro formation of this track appeals to those who like tracks that are more at ease and with less of an intensity that jazz can often possess. That’s the thing with jazz, it can range from a calm, soothing notion, to a highly clashing, bombastic, and lively sound that surprises the listener at every turn.

Next on the record, “Away” begins its music with an apparent country-like sound, like someone who has lost a love or who has moved away from settings or people familiar and typical to the individual. With every note that is played, your heart feels for when the guitar tweaks and crescendos with each note. The song reminds me much of the Christmas song by The Carpenters, “Christmas Waltz” (“And this song of mine in three-quarter time. Wishes you and yours the same thing too.”)

Rounding out the album, “In F” is a funky, groovy track bound to put anyone who listens in a great mood and get some up off their feet to dance. Its rock-pop vibe carries a difference from the rest of the record which might go unnoticed if you are one who likes to skip tracks or select your favorites rather than listen to the record in its entirety for what it’s worth. Finally, “Radio” keeps with the appeal of “In F” succeeding to send off the listener with a smile and a feel of how each groove and divet of jazz can be peculiar in their own right. Just when you think the artist is going in one direction, he or she takes your trained ear and throws it reverse. And just like everything else, oftentimes it works, and sometimes it misses the mark. Here, Swallow Tales accomplishes the mission of entertainment and experience for the unexperienced musician or just plain music lover.


Gregg Keniston- MuzikMan.net Staff
May 17, 2020

 

Track Listing:
1. She Was Young
2. Falling Grace
3. Porsmouth Figurations
4. Awful Coffee
5. Eiderdown
6. Hullo Bolinas
7. Away
8. In F
9. Radio

 

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