John Scofield, 'Works For Me' (2001)

At the end of Playing Changes is a list: The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far). I organized these by year, and then alphabetically by artist name. I'll be running them down here, in that order. (No one appears more than once as a leader, though there’s ample overlap in personnel.)

The turn of the century was a distinctly groovy time for the guitarist John Scofield. Having led one of the great elastic post-bop bands of the 1990s, a swinging quartet featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, he'd diversified his profile in with the release of A Go Go, a collaboration with Medeski Martin & Wood. Then came Bump, in 2000 — a full-on plunge into fusion, with a state-of-the-art funk rhythm section.


Works For Me, released in 2001, was more than Sco's acquiescent return to swinging jazz. It wasn't really that at all, in fact; one fundamental truth about John Scofield is that he draws no value distinction between music that bops and music that grooves. What made this album special was its all-star personnel: Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Billy Higgins on drums. That's three generations of excellence, with Higgins embodying the role of elder and sage.

The genius of Billy Higgins on this album goes beyond a wisdom of experience, though that's clearly a part of it. Higgins was, famously, the proprietor of a unique and special pulse that fell somewhere on the spectrum between straight and swinging; consult Lee Morgan's iconic "The Sidewinder" for a textbook example. Or listen to Scofield's "Loose Canon" below, which occupies a limber, bobbing groove, reminiscent of a boxer warming up in the ring.

There are some rock-solid solos on the track, along with some sterling comping. (Listen to what Mehldau does behind Scofield, punctuating pauses and answering questions.) Garrett brings a good Sriracha blast of tartness and heat, before Master Higgins does a bit of amicable thrashing over the vamp, sounding relaxed and in command. He was 64 at the time of this album's release. A few months later, he was gone.

Purchase Works For Me on Amazon, or stream it on Apple Music or Spotify.