John Scofield's
" Piety Street CD and Performance "

John Scofield Rises Above His CD Chops in Live Performance

The difference between live and recorded performances can say a lot about an act. Case in point: John Scofield's most recent Piety Street CD and a show he did with some of the same personnel at B. B. King's in New York.

Scofield has made many genre-busting records as well as playing on dozens more as a sideman with Charles Mingus, Mose Allison, Eddie Harris, Miles Davis, and others. Piety Street is his second release for Emarcy Records. On it he has assembled a interesting band of roots and groove-oriented sidemen where he's backed by keyboardist and vocalist Jon Cleary, the outstanding bassist George Porter Jr., drummer Ricky Fataar, vocalist John Boutte and New Orleans drummer and percussionist Shannon Powell. Two of the thirteen tracks were penned by Scofield, the rest are covers.

Piety Street should have been better when you consider the depth of talent employed, but it lacks enthusiasm and spontaneity. Highlights include the opening Dorothy Love Coates' "That's Enough" featuring Jon Cleary's clean vocals and Scofield's emotive guitar work. Yet the interplay between the musicians is flat. Similarly, the traditional "Motherless Child" follows and offers a weird Reggae instrumental ending. The Scofield composition picks up the beat on "It's a Big Army," easily the best track included. It has a Ray Charles vibe to it, probably left over from his previous and very cool disc That's What I Say which featured an all-star cast. Rev. James Cleveland's "Something's Got a Hold On Me" just limps along and attempts to get a bit funky, but doesn't. The plodding and Bluesy "The Old Ship of Zion" nearly put me to sleep. The usually exuberant "99 And a Half" is far better covered by the New Orleans Social Club a band that featured "Piety Street" bassist George Porter Jr. Go figure.

So here we are at a little over the midway point. Are you starting to get the yawning picture? There's some waking moments on "Never Turn Back" but nothing to get excited about. Scofield's other contribution "But I Like the Message" is a pretty hip instrumental and offers a glimmer of hope. "The Angel Of Death' by Hank Williams is just as the title implies. Finally, the closing "I'll Fly Away" is better served by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's live performances which usually tear down the house. After repeated spins of Piety Street, I was praying that their live performance at B.B. King's in Time Square would take it up a bunch of notches after they lumbered out of the studio.

Groove playing has always been an ongoing element for guitarist John Scofield, the same could be anticipated about the somewhat exuberant show at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill on a Sunday night where he was re-joined by most of the players from the Piety Street recording: pianist Jon Cleary, the bassist George Porter Jr., and the drummer Ricky Fataar. As expected, Sco played lead on just about every song, sounded at home with the material and happy to be there. So when he dug down and got deep, he periodically and methodically let loose, and it was usually in the heat of the full ensemble's enthusiasm. In like fashioned Meters style, George Porter Jr. sang (He did sing not on the studio disc.) on "Never Turn Back" which turned into a lot of what I was looking for, a spirited and creative jam with lots of ear candy.

Most of the vocal chores fell on Jon Cleary, and he shined on "Something's Got a Hold on Me" and got vocal backing from one or more of his band mates. Cleary's keyboard playing was everything you'd expect from this hard working veteran. But when he picked up his guitar and dueled with Scofield on "I Don't Need No Doctor," I was very impressed as his guitar sizzled and buzzed right there with Sco, yet it's interesting and telling to note that this track which is not from Piety Street but appeared on the aforementioned Scofield CD That's What I Say. The other most satisfying moment came from the set's finale "It's a Big Army" that truly raised the roof as the band roared and soared, leaving the crowd a bit breathless and wanting for more.

If this Piety Street band evolves and continues performing, it will be interesting to see how their live shows take on a broader and harder edge. Lord knows the band has the killer instincts and chops to become a somewhat latter day Meters reincarnation, so time will tell. I give their CD performance a 5 and their club show a 7. I will be checking them out in New Orleans at Jazz Fest '09, and will report more in an upcoming column here in BluesWax.

Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at Bob maybe contacted at:

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