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Listening Post: New From John Scofield and The Kronos Quartet

Jazz

John Scofield, “Country for Old Men” (Impulse). Certainly one of the wittiest jazz album titles of the year. Its full provenance is this: obviously an allusion to the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning film “No Country for Old Men,” taken from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name which got its title from W. B. Yeats’ poem “Sailing to Byzantium.” You’ve got to love a title like that, especially when it’s a joke the musicians are making about themselves. The album is reasonably delicious. Ever since Ray Charles so dramatically figured out how to make “modern sounds in country and western music,” country repertoire has been a congenial home for musicians whom no one would suspect being comfortable there. John Scofield is, in so many ways, the representative jazz guitarist of our era, which is why it’s a delight to have a country repertoire record by him, full of country favorites. Scofield makes sure you know on the very first tune that he’s not kidding about “going country” if he wants to. His opener’, George Jones’ “Mr. Fool,” would be a comfy fit for a very hip lounge in Nashville. After that, forget it. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Die” is presented, thank God, without tears. It’s straight ahead jet-propelled jazz in Scofield’s best angular, even abstract mode, with Larry Goldings on piano and organ and bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart charging ahead with fierce velocity. Golding’s solo devolves into electronic abstraction. Scofield says “Instead of ‘three choards and the truth,’ it’s two chords and the truth. We took that and took it into one chord and the truth.” Those are the two poles – down home and completely abstract – the band travels between and the journey is something else. How about “Red River Valley” in which, admits Scofield, “we stole the top from Johnny and the Hurricanes’ ‘Red River Rock’? Are you ready for Dolly Parton’s “medieval” “Jolene” as a post-Coltrane modal beauty? This is jazz eclecticism for delight’s sake and it’s pure. Three and a half stars out of four. (Jeff Simon)

Classsical

Alexandra Vrebalov, “The Sea Ranch Songs” performed by the Kronos Quartet (Canteloupe, disc plus DVD) It’s the DVD by Andrew Lyndon that is of more interest here, really, than the music. The Kronos is, to be sure, one of the world’s greatest chamber ensembles. I’ve always thought that if there were a Nobel Prize in music, its leader David Harrington would be a worthy recipient. But that is for its exhaustive uncovering of postmodern composition and international musics. Of slightly lesser interest here is the Kronos as a very San Franciscan outfit, dedicating this to “The Sea Ranch” near San Francisco where, says composer Vrebalov and Harrington, “an entire community is dedicated to living, building and interacting with its surroundings in harmonious and responsible ways. We celebrate the nature, people and architecture of this magical place by creating a piece with original music, documented sounds and visual samples of different aspects of life and creativity in this rare landscape where people and nature are intertwined in a healthy union.” The music is not as interesting as either the place or the video. Two and a half our of four stars. (Jeff Simon)

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