in performance: ross whitaker

Ross Whitaker.

Approximating the jazz tone and temperament of John Scofield is no easy task. One of the most versed and recognizable jazz guitarists of the past four decades, his electric playing cruises effortlessly through bop, blues, funk and fusion but isn’t afraid to dig into dark corners during the ride. That’s why underneath all the lyrical candor in Scofield’s music sits a restlessness that toys with tempo and phrasing to create a sense of woozy fascination. Then again, when a tunes calls for it, his playing can tear like a torpedo through the mightiest senses of swing and groove.

Lexington guitarist Ross Whitaker took it upon himself to explore and interpret a sizable chunk of Scofield’s catalog – 32 years’ worth, to be exact – for an Origins Jazz Series concert Saturday evening at Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Lounge. The results offered a musical overview that was as complimentary to Scofield’s stylistic breadth as it was comprehensive.

To his credit, Whitaker didn’t rush the music or force its intent. Scofield has never been intrigued with flash or speed. As such Whitaker, took his time in offering a faithful take on Scofield’s high, wiry tone. It unfolded with modestly aggressive but abundantly playful clarity on “I’ll Take Les,” coalesced for the more outwardly boppish “Eisenhower” and eased for the gentler, bossa nova-flavored “Keep Me in Mind.”

Working with tenor saxophonist Doug Drewek and trumpeter/cornetist Sam Flowers helped color the more expansive extremes of the concert, from the hushed phrasing of “Still Warm” (a tune that reached back to a 1986 Scofield album of the same name) to the blues/soul lullaby “Uncle Southern” (the performance’s newest entry, coming from Scofield’s 2018 recording “Combo 66”).

Then there were times Whitaker’s patiently paced musicianship openly embraced groove. On “Hottentot,” one of Scofield’s numerous collaborations with the avant funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood, the bounce in his playing turned more jagged as the ensemble sound became more rhythmic. Since horns didn’t figure into Scofield’s original version, it was both refreshing and inventive to hear them play off the composition’s central guitar hooks so readily. The jovial sound that resulted sounded less like Medeski Martin & Wood and more like James Brown.

 



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