Samick Motherlode

December 2014
more... ArtistsGuitaristsFusionJazzAugust 2013

Interview: John Scofield - Uncle John’s Electro-Jam Band

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Interview: John Scofield - Uncle John’s Electro-Jam Band


Scofield gets in the groove on his lawsuit-era Ibanez T-style. Photo by Lisa Miller.

You could make a case that John Scofield gets bored easily. “Maybe a little bit,” he says with a laugh. Even a cursory glance at his output from the last decade reveals he has tackled everything from straight-ahead modern jazz (ScoLoHoFo’s OH! and Enroute) to an old-school R&B Ray Charles tribute, and even New Orleans gospel (Piety Street). Yet within each new musical outfit, Scofield’s edgy, Vox-powered tone comes through loud and clear.

On his latest album, Überjam Deux, Scofield reunites with the same outfit that was on his 2002 album, Überjam. It shares the same forward-thinking approach his previous employers, Miles Davis and Billy Cobham, explored in the heyday of jazz-fusion.

While Scofield does sneak in hints of his well-developed bebop language here and there, you always can count on a healthy dose of the blues. “Although I don’t consider myself a ’blues’ player,” says Scofield, “I love blues guitar and have been trying to get into it my whole life—B.B. King and Albert King, who’s a freak of all time.”

In all the Überjam projects, Avi Bortnick handles the rhythm guitar duties, as well as executing all the samples live and in real-time. “That’s the way Überjam has always done it,” says Scofield. “We do it all at once and Avi has a system where he can trigger the samples with a foot controller.”

That edge between where everything works out and anything could go wrong is where the most adventurous of jazz musicians live, and Scofield has taken up residence there for the better part of four decades. Even among his contemporaries—Stern, Frisell, and Metheny—Scofield’s approach is singular, and he could even be considered the most open-minded of that group. We caught up with Scofield between tours to talk about the motivation behind reuniting Überjam, his new pedalboard, and what attracts him to guitars that just feel old.

It’s pretty hard to sit still while listening to the new album. Some of the tracks have a very danceable quality.

Yeah, I agree, it uses elements of that stuff. But when I think of dance music, it’s Britney Spears and that kind of thing. This is different. It’s not music that’s made specifically for dancing. But, yeah, it has that "four on the floor" stuff that’s disco, really. It has become dance music.

When did you first start to experiment with electronics in your music?

When I started doing this band with Avi Bortnick‚ over 10 years ago‚ I’d made a record called Bump, which had a lot of things with two guitars where I overdubbed stuff. So I was looking for a rhythm guitar player and I found Avi. We started playing together and he told me about all this stuff going on out there with electronics and how he was interested in that. He brought in some loops that we started to play along with. It was probably around 2001. I was interested in it, but I didn’t even own a computer at that time. I just didn’t know how to do it.

It’s been a decade since the first Überjam album. What inspired you to revisit this group? Did you have a stockpile of material?

No, I didn’t really have tunes lying around. I was just thinking of what I wanted to do next. I always loved playing with those guys and I thought enough time had gone by that we could do something different from what we’d done before. I felt the urge to do something with electronics and thought why not play with those guys? We’re a great band and we have something else in us that could come out.

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