Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Guitarist John Scofield has followed up 2009’s jazz-gospel Piety Street with a lovely excursion into balladry: From McCartney’s “I Will” and Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” to Carla Bley’s “Lawns” and Billy Eckstine’s “I Want To Talk About You.” Add five originals, including the Bach tribute “Johan,” and you’ve got a meditative hour of celestial improvisation.

Scofield, as usual, has surrounded himself with greatness: Keyboardist Larry Goldings, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade are all world-class musicians. Their sympathetic support and sterling soloing add color and dimension to an already exotic and mystical brew.

Don’t confuse this with easy-listening! There’s a lot of playing going on. It’s subtle, sure, quiet even, thoughtful and calm. But it has substance and heart.

Goldings especially, is a whiz, intuitive to the other players, as is bassist Colley, who steps out in front when the need arises.

“You Don’t Know What Love Is,” from 1941, popularized by Billie Holiday, gets a reggae groove, complete with a dub bass line.

Scofield’s own “Plain Song” could be purist Appalachian back porch mountain music, like a folk song with no words.

Throughout, Scofield’s guitar playing is exemplary. His jazz strums, his intricate soloing as fine as a spider’s web, his use of syncopation and an almost-silent reserve makes his artistry different from other guitarists. He’s a one-of-a-kind guitar hero, a soft guitar hero, if you will, and that alone sets him apart and above.

In A Word: Heavenly

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