A Man Descending*Scorched**
Erskine/Lovano/Patitucci/Scofield: Quartet Set*
John Scofield (guitar)
Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone)*
Martin Robertson (alto saxophone)**
John Patitucci (double bass & bass guitar)
Peter Erskine (percussion)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 11 February, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Although jazz and funk have long been present in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music, it was a combining of jazz and classical musicians in 1996’s Blood on the Floor that opened up areas he has since mined intensively. Scorched – premiered in 2002, its title deriving from ‘SCofield ORCHestratED’ – is defined by its collaborative nature: a suite of separate numbers featuring John Scofield, John Patitucci and Peter Erskine, in tandem with a large ensemble that is neither big-band nor symphony orchestra but a fusion of the two. The material itself ranges across Scofield’s recorded output, with performing strategies that take in ‘derived from’ to ‘improvised on’ and pretty much every stage in-between.
After the abrasive procession of ‘Make Me 1’, the heavy groove of ‘Make Me 2’ ventures further than before into jazz-funk territory, then the dense string polyphony opening ‘Kubrick’ alternates with rhythmic woodwind writing of ominous restraint. ‘Away With Words’ is a kind of slow blues, featuring a typically elastic Scofield melody line, while the febrile pizzicato of ‘Fat Lip 1’ gives the strings their head, ‘Fat Lip 2’ focusing on the trio in a workout underpinned by visceral Erskine drumming. The orchestral ‘Deadzy’ has an Expressionist feel that recalls Turnage’s work with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, before a switch to big-band ambience with the grating syncopation of ‘Trim’.
An intimate Scofield solo prefaces the sparky woodwind interplay of ‘Nocturnal Mission’, then ‘Let’s Say We Did’ ushers in a mellower mood – fronted by a soulful alto sax solo from Martin Robertson (dedicatee of the concerto Your Rockaby – still among Turnage’s finest works) and underpinned by Patitucci’s insinuating bass line. ‘The Nag’ features the trio in a profusion of colliding metres, with Scofield then maintaining continuity through the deft chordal solo of ‘Cadenza’. The culmination is reached in ‘Gil B643’, which distils a brooding atmosphere from an orchestration worthy of pianist and arranger Gil Evans, before ‘Protocol’ unites the musicians in a toccata-like riff of surging funk.
There can be no qualms about the degree of commitment from either the solo players or from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – its musicians enjoying themselves and directed with gusto by Stefan Asbury, though the amplification leant a rather synthetic sheen to the upper strings and orchestral balance lacked spatial depth as a consequence. Nor was the flame-red backdrop to the platform a notable inducement to listening. As an 83-minute entity, Scorched may hang together more by inference than by design, but the vital and often imaginative reformulation of what one might term ‘third-stream principles’ ensures that its impact and level of involvement are amply sustained across the whole.
This concert-length work had been preceded by a first half that consisted of a four-number workout – reworking originals and enshrining the term ‘relaxed intensity’ – by Scofield, Patitucci and Erskine, together with the tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano. He and the SCO had previously performed Turnage’s A Man Descending – a musical parallel in reverse to Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, and an attractive if slightly unvaried rhapsody where the solo line discreetly merges into and out of textures whose modality is perhaps intentional. Lovano did it proud, though an element of restiveness suggested an audience ready for more demonstrative challenges. They were not to be disappointed.