Friday, July 2, 2010

Joe Henry: Scar (2001)

(As published in the Illinois Entertainer ... )


Hats off to Joe Henry. Instead of cynically treating jazz as a chic résumé-enhancer or as camouflage behind which to putter aimlessly, he's gone and hired genuine jazz musicians and written a set of lyrics that sound like Zen wisdom knowingly muttered by real gone daddies in opium dens ’round midnight.

The problem is, with a band that includes Brian Blade (drums), Brad Mehldau (piano), and Marc Ribot (guitar), lyrics can be a distraction even when they’re attached to evocative titles (“Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation”) and they go “God and His ghost / And His roadhouse crew / Ran me out of town on a silver rail” (“Lock and Key”). In other words, one finds himself listening past or through Henry’s words and the way he sings them to concentrate on the interplay of his combo. When Ornette Coleman comes in on “Richard Pryor,” you forget Scar is a Joe Henry record altogether.

Compounding the problem of focus is that the two most fascinating tracks are instrumentals. With Ribot doing Pete Cosey impersonations and Henry doing nothing audibly, “Nico Lost One Small Buddha” recreates the sound of On The Corner-era Miles Davis skronk for skronk. Then there’s “Pryor Reprise,” seven more minutes of solo Coleman hidden at disc’s end. What can a critic do but give the jazz guys an eight, Henry a six, and call the rating an average? 7

1 comment:

  1. Shirley Clarke's Ornette: Made in America

    video on demand stream