The subtitle of That's What I Say (Verve Records) is “plays the music of Ray Charles,” another natural in the wake of the Genius’ death, as there are sure to be countless more tributes on their way.
An established jazz guitarist with decades of hard work on his truly individual sound, John Scofield succeeds at a top-shelf album that could well stand on its own without the tribute title.
To hear this in its entirety on a road trip or at a party, or in pieces on the radio, you would have to concentrate to realize that these just happen to be songs Ray Charles recorded. They are not face-lifted or full of gimmicks for novelty effect, they have brand-new lives of their own. Their entire architectures have been re-drawn.
In previous decades, Scofield may have been backing jazz legends Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, forward into and out of the ‘90s with Modeski, Martin and Wood. He’s developed an interesting vibrato/organ guitar solo sound.
His recent album masterpieces have featured monster veteran backup players who re-define tnsion release of a jazz groove. It’s difficult to describe, you have to experience it. So what more can the guitarist possibly do, much less to a Ray Charles theme?
Begin by looking at the list of guest musicians on the disc. Says “Sco” in the notes: “It’s all about the company you keep and this was extraordinary company.” We’re talking vocalists Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Dr. John and Warren Hanyes, sometimes individually, at others chorally.
Enter producer Steve Jordan, who also plays impeccable and wide-ranging drums throughout. He permeates his musical talent and savvy into the entire project. Hammond B3 organ is used wisely just as brother Ray himself might have endorsed.
“Busted” is an instrumental with leader Scofield playing the melody, whereas all the singers take turns on verses of “What’d I Say.”
The only cut with a weird sonic character, probably on purpose, it the “acid-jazz” instrumental “Sticks And Stones.”
What I really appreciate about the CD is the display of true talent in guitar/vocalist guest John Mayer, who might otherwise be conveniently dismissed as a pop musician. He hits “Don’t Need No Doctor” dead-on, playing the guitar solos while the album’s leader strums ultra-creative rhythm and arpeggios.
Instrumental numbers continue mixed between vocals, some originally country in origin, one from rich musical ancestry, and others that were later covered by R&B and rock musicians. I swear there’s an un-credited bonus track hidden in the final track. A simmering funk feel is an undercurrent of the sum total.
Through all the musical elements It’s genuine jazz all right, but also danceable, instead of intellectual. Kind of like the music of, well, Ray Charles over the years.
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