It might just have ended up as too much of a good thing, this double-header featuring two power quartets led by celebrated jazz-fusioneers, John Scofield’s Überjam band and fellow-guitarist Mike Stern’s group with trumpeter Randy Brecker. In the event, this opening concert of the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, while unstinting in energy levels, proved pretty much a sonically-charged delight.
John Scofield Überjam Band / Mike Stern & Randy Brecker Group ****
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Scofield’s revived Überjam band hit the ground running with such numbers as I Brake 4 Monster Booty, although there were few spaces for introductions as these committed groove-generators fulfilled Scofield’s enthusiastic greeting: “We’re gonna play a lot of notes, for sure.”
His guitar metamorphosed through ceaselessly shifting voicings, howling fiercely, squalling like a fractious child or eerily looping sighs and murmurs. Schofield frequently played off Avi Bortnick’s stuttering rhythm guitar – very much an individual presence of its own in the mix – and the blips and buzzes of Bortnick’s laptop samples. Drummer Dennis Chambers, a long-standing Scofield bandmate, never seemed to break sweat while laying down a formidable rhythm road, whether beefy funk, lumbering reggae, or the big, beaty blues stalking of Boogie Stupid, alongside Andy Hess’s stealthily muttering bass guitar.
Technical gremlins slightly held up the Stern-Brecker band’s opening number, the irrepressible Stern entertaining us with a snap Dylan impersonation while technicians footered anxiously with the trumpeter’s cables.
Suddenly they were off and cruising with Out of the Blue, guitar singing, trumpet riffling tersely, over drummer Lenny White’s more demonstrative stick work and the nimble thunder of Teymur Phell’s six-stringed bass guitar.
The characteristically beaming Stern was on a roll, his signature split-stereo guitar tone one minute mellow and pacey, the next intensifying frenziedly.
Brecker on the other hand tended to deliver spare interjections from his stool, standing up for more prolonged exchanges with Stern, and for what Stern introduced gleefully as “a cute little ditty”, Brecker’s irreverently titled Dipshit, a funky excursion with full-toned horn riding the
In contrast to the full-on nature of the evening, Stern switched to haunting, wordless vocalising over White’s hissing cymbals and brush work for his wistful ballad What Might Have Been, Brecker adding some nocturne-like mute trumpet calls. Stern, however, switched to bluesy holler for their closing rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s Red House (trumpet sounding slightly incongruously here) – one guitar hero’s uproarious tribute to another.