Monday, October 12, 2015

John Scofield - 1989 "Flat Out"

Flat Out is a studio album by jazz guitarist John Scofield. It was recorded in December 1989 and his sixth and last release on Gramavision.
The album marks a shift from his latter funk oriented fusion recordings to hard swinging tracks with "almost bobbish" solos and a new focus on New Orleans rhythm and blues covering two songs by The Meters and Huey "Piano" Smith and an original with a second line groove ("In the Cracks").
The quartet featured Don Grolnick exclusively on Hammond B-3 organ, double bassist Anthony Cox and either Johnny Vidacovich or Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. Don Grolnick already played keyboards on his 1986 album Still Warm (and would later produce his 1991 album Meant to Be). With Anthony Cox Scofield was part of a recording by Gary Thomas' a few months earlier (By Any Means Necessary). And with Terri Lyne Carrington he first played together on a recording session led by Niels Lan Doky in September 1988 (Daybreak). Johnny Vidacovich "is the quintessential New Orleans jazz drummer." Scofield recorded with him once before in 1988 for Ray Anderson's album Blues Bred in the Bone. Scofield and Ray Anderson also recorded with saxophonist Bennie Wallace on his New Orleans R&B influenced albums Twilight Time (1985) and Bordertown (1987) both featuring Dr. John. Scofield would later come back to New Orleans based grooves on his 1995 album Groove Elation and most explicitly in 2009 with Piety Street.

The basic facts on this album are that Sco returned to a more traditional sound here after spending most of the 1980s playing jazz-rock fusion with Miles Davis and his own bands. For this session, he mixed post-bop jazz with elements of New Orleans R&B. One might jump to the conclusion that this was a contractual-obligation blowing session, based on the presence of musicians he has not recorded with since and the fact that about half the record is comprised of jazz and R&B standards. But what you get is far from a routine affair tossed off to wind up his fruitful 1980s stint with Gramavision Records. This is an album that wears very well. Better, for my money, than "Hand Jive" and "Groove Elation," two mid-1990s Blue Note albums where he also mixed swing and r&b. It's a more stripped-down affair than either of those two records, having no horns, piano, or auxiliary percussion. And then there are the standards. For the first three decades of his career (up until his Ray Charles tribute of 2005), Scofield mostly avoided recording material not written by him or, in a few cases, musical associates like Steve Swallow. This record is something of an exception, with stunning versions of All the Things You Are, Secret Love, and the classic New Orleans R&B tunes "Rockin' Pneumonia" (Huey 'Piano' Smith)and "Cissy Strut" (The Meters). For whatever reason--the more relaxed grooves, the presence of familiar favorites on the set list, or who knows what--he turned in a record that is greater than the sum of its parts. That can't always be said for the string of Blue Notes records that were to follow (save the first, the consistently wonderful Time on My Hands), which often seemed to be exactly the sum of their parts. Never less than professional and well-crafted, but only sporadically inspired at the level that he maintains through this whole session. Almost any Scofield record has a few exceptional moments that stand the test of time, but this one is at a different level, sounding almost like a live concert set, but with all the sonic benefits of a studio recording.

Scofield"s swan song for Gramavision and the best of the lot! I bought this cd in 1989 and this music really hits the spot every time I put it on the stereo. The tunes are memorable, and John's playing is inspired by the two excellent drummers including Johnny Vidacovich, and Terri Lynn Carrington. With the exception of the late Don Grolnick playing organ on a few tracks, it's an extroverted trio affair with a big sound. Anthony Cox is on bass. If you're craving more of Sco's guitar, do yourself a favor and order this cd.

In his final trip to the recording studio for Gramavision, jazz fusionist John Scofield once again shifted gears and showed his ever-growing legion of fans a glimpse of his new direction on his 1989 CD entitled "Flat Out". The grooves here are greasier, more redolent of New Orleans, and they anticipate where Scofield arrived with his Hand Jive quartet five years later. The supporting band of Don Grolnick on Hammond B-3 organ, Anthony Cox on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington and Johnny Vidacovich sharing drum chores is an inspired acoustic/electric blend that allows Scofield to cover "Cissy Strut" and "Rockin' Pneumonia" as well as burn on six originals and a couple of Tin Pan Alley standards. 

Track listing

1.    "Cissy Strut" (George Porter, Jr., Ziggy Modeliste, Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli) – 2:56
2.    "Secret Love" (Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster) – 5:55
3.    "All the Things You Are" (Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern) – 7:37
4.    "In the Cracks" (Scofield) – 4:48
5.    "Softy" (Scofield) – 4:34
6.    "Science and Religion" (Scofield) – 4:42
7.    "The Boss's Car" (Scofield) – 6:59
8.    "Evansville" (Scofield) – 5:52
9.    "Flat Out" (Scofield) – 3:40
10.   "Rockin' Pneumonia" (Huey "Piano" Smith) – 3:57

Personnel

    John Scofield - electric guitar
    Don Grolnick - Hammond B-3 organ
    Anthony Cox - double bass
    Johnny Vidacovich - drums (exc. tracks 3, 7, 8)
    Terri Lyne Carrington - drums (tracks 3, 7, 8)

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