John Scofield’s set with his Uberjam quartet at The College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center for the Arts Sunday night was all about groove.
Guitarist Scofield, guitarist and synth player Avi Bortnick, bassist Andy Hess and drummer Tony Mason (filling in for Adam Deitch) lived up to their band name, stretching out nine songs into 90 minutes before a crowd filling over three-quarters of the theater. But this was no noodle-fest. Despite the elongated arrangements, each song felt tightly arranged and executed, with clear mood shifts, powerful builds and an overarching focus on the hypnotic rhythms being played.
This year, fusion guitarist Scofield resurrected Uberjam for a new 12-song album, “Uberjam Deux,” nearly 10 years after its first two albums. On this night, the band focused mostly on its new material, starting with the spacey blues of “Snake Dance.” While Bortnick created a swirling soundscape on top of Mason’s insistent tribal playing, Scofield and Hess engaged in call-and-response riffing, building the sound to a heady climax before Bortnick introduced a new section on his synth.
With a few exceptions, most of the other songs played this evening followed this pattern of Scofield leading on the first half, Bortnick introducing the second half. But within that basic formula there was plenty of room for experimentation. “Cracked Ice” adopted a furious funk rhythm, while Scofield’s twanging Telecaster stabbed through the chunky chords. The four-on-the-floor groove of “Al Green Song,” a tribute to its namesake, was an early highlight, with Scofield’s melodic soloing providing a strong emotional anchor to the song’s minor key groove.
Another tribute, “Curtis Knew,” was dedicated to Curtis Mayfield, and adopted a light, spacey groove anchored by Mason’s machine gun rhythms and Scofield’s harmonically wandering solo. The four musicians built up sections of tension and release throughout the song, with Scofield’s shredding guitar solo earning some of the evening’s biggest cheers.
The two older songs played came from the first “Uberjam” album. “I Brake 4 Monster Booty” combined hip-hop, industrial and jam band sounds, as Scofield and Bortnick played circular riffs in tandem. Later in the set, “Jungle Fiction” provided Mason a chance to let loose with a challenging rhythm, a nice shift from the heavy 4/4 grooves employed on most of the other songs.
In between those two songs was perhaps the highlight of the whole evening, “Boogie Stupid.” Starting out on a loose reggae rhythm held in place by Bortnick’s chunky chording, the song shifted into a bluesy section before ending on a climactic, almost Beatle-esque pop chord progression, all the while with Scofield wailing away on his Telecaster.
The group ended the main set with the dark “Endless Summer,” another slow burner that built up from Bortnick’s squealing samples into another Mason-driven groove fest. Although the band didn’t inspire any dancing whatsoever, despite the highly danceable nature of the material, at least this song’s furious conclusion earned the band a standing ovation.