Avantgarde solo artists miss mark

John Scofield comes highly recommended. His back catalog includes work with Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. Uberjam (Verve), his most recent effort, is an eclectic mix of world-jazz tunes brought to the fore by an energetic backing band. Scofield is a talented man indeed, but he may have misplaced his ability on this effort.

Buddhist-tinged cover art, featuring a fairly unsettling picture of Scofield, underscores his transformation to a world artist. Perhaps it’s an extension of the universal nature of his art form: mainly jazz. Scofield’s bluesy guitar tones shift by the song, from pentatonic melodies to free-time phrases a la John McLaughlin on Davis’ Bitches Brew.

Bassist Jesse Murphy and drummer Adam Deitch form a formidable rhythm section, Murphy’s grooved-out bass meshing nicely with Deitch’s admirably tight, snare-laden drumming style. The musicians’ talent is infused with fine production in the studio and labored mixing of the high and low ends of the tracks.

The musicians assembled on the album are all very good at what they do; the trouble comes from the fact that what they do (along the lines of Phish, Medeski/Martin/Wood, etc.) tends to be pretty uninspiring and not all that innovative.

And, of course, there are a couple glitches: there is a pointless, self-effacing attempt at freestyle rap somewhere in the middle of the album, and songs such as “Offspring” could be called the Weather Channel forecast music. As misguided as it might be, Uberjam is still, a noble effort from talented musicians.

This release is part hip-hop, part R & B, mixed with heavy pop sensibility and a little bit of reggae played by in-studio musicians. It would probably do well as an in-store soundtrack at the Gap.

Citizen Cope (real name: Clarence Greenwood) draws on an unlikely pair of lyrical styles with debatable success. Greenwood combines the gentle flow of Bob Marley with the impassioned warble of Thom Yorke. He refers to the record as a “street record that’s essentially rewarding in a pop sense.”

As a hip-hop release, it may not hold up well. MC Greenwood doesn’t have what it takes, and his beats fall flat. His lyrics don’t hit home as he speaks his mind about contemporary America from an overused mythological bent.

The live instrumentation is definitely a plus; the band is a far less hip-hop version of The Roots. But the comparison is hardly even fair to The Roots

I can’t really relate to this record at all. Shannon McNally tried to trick me. She has a sharp look in glossy pictures, and she does sound pretty when she sings, but Jukebox Sparrows (Capitol), aside from having an incomprehensible name, doesn’t really have musical focus.

One song is all R & B beats, another is lap-steel driven honky-tonk. There’s even some earthy folk, which would be OK if we were talking about Woody Guthrie, but we’re not. Far from it.

The record boasts interesting varied instrumentation; traditional folk/country elements such as a Wurlitzer, pedal-steel guitar, theremin and piano combine to create infectiously poppy tunes. The overall effect, musically, is bluesy, Dixie-style pop, sometimes funky, sometimes twangy.

If it seems like those are strange adjectives to use together, that’s because the whole thing is strange. But the production (which always tricks people into listening to unpalatable dreck) is undeniably slick, making the record an excellent choice to sell, and play excessively, in any Starbucks.

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