Jonathan Scales FourchestraMay 8th, 2012 | By Dwight Mabe | Category: Entertainment, Sounds
The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra performed Friday May 4th at the Green Bean for a small, enthusiastic crowd. Scales refers to his music as jazz/rock fusion, a genre/style that some of us older folks grew up with. Fusion jazz came to life as a style with Miles Davis. The album “In a Silent Way” laid most of the ground work and the seminal work “Bitches Brew” brought it to fruition. The cast of musicians became the Who’s Who of jazz fusion – Chick Corea and Lenny White (Return To Forever), John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul (Weather Report), all became known for the fusion jazz hits of the day. These were the last days before FM radio turned to formatting and all of these groups gained extensive airplay.
Fusion survives to this day in various groups and Scales is great bearer of the standard. The band consists of Jonathan Scales on steel drums, Phil Bronson on drums and Cody Wright on bass guitar. The group expertly weaves fun into the performances, rendering what some might term somewhat complex music accessible by all. The members, for the most part, are seasoned musicians, choosing wisely how they interact harmonically and rhythmically. The most important part in this context is how they were able to hook in the audience, something the early fusion jazz pioneers had to learn.
The best example of audience engagement was Weather Report. Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter were literally giants of the jazz world and had to transition to the new fusion style where the audience was no longer the intimate jazz club, but the larger auditorium and arena venue. Having more than just a little foresight, Joe Zawinul hired a young amazingly talented bass player named Jaco Pastorius. Jaco was just as at home with an R&B or rock show band as he was a small jazz group. Pastorius provided the point of engagement with audience that the other fusion groups didn’t have – showy enough to grab the audience and bring them fully into the more complex harmonic and rhythmic content of fusion jazz. Weather Report quickly rose to the top of the fusion world as a result, while the other pioneers took longer to make this transition.
The Scales Fourchestra does this very well on their own terms with subtlety beyond their apparent ages, giving the audience references with rockish, bluesy riffs moving in and out of the more complex tonal structure of jazz.
The performance was one of the best I’ve seen in Greensboro at a small club in a very long time – something that comes a bit close to the level last seen at the seminal concert by Weather Report at the old Triad Sports Arena in 1977. That is a big accolade and this group could very well rise to that degree with more time and performances under their belt.
Which brings me to my only criticism. Cody Wright is an excellent bassist, especially considering that he has only played the instrument for just over a year after transitioning from guitar. He plays with a pick, a bit unusual in jazz but there are notable exceptions like Steve Swallow. His lines are creative and very well played but lack a bit of cohesion. This will come with time and more performances on the instrument, especially outside of the context he’s currently in.
The bottom line is that there should have been a standing room only crowd for this show. These are world-class musicians, deserving of much more.
Wake up, Greensboro – some of the best live music anywhere is right here in your town!