John Scofield and the Piety Band

Thurs. April 16

9 p.m.

$25

Pour House

1977 Maybank Hwy.

(843) 571-4343

www.charlestonpourhouse.com

www.johnscofield.com

John Scofield is full of surprises. A versatile jazz guitar badass with a long and impressive resumé, he’s capable of darting in one musical direction or another.

Scofield is regularly celebrated for his work with such greats as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Cobham/Duke, and many others in and around the jazz world, so his latest project is a somewhat unexpected musical detour. He recently veered away from his complex, mostly-instrumental fusion and funk when he formed a new soul-based band with whom he recorded a gospel album with a heavy dose of old-school Southern blues. They visit Charleston on Thursday in support of a new album titled Piety Street (Emercy).

“I’ve played with some terrific musicians from New Orleans, and I’ve always been a great fan of that sound,” Scofield says. “I wanted to make a soul-filled blues record in New Orleans. I’ve always been into that. I went down there a year ago to try to play with a bunch of different guys to see who might be right to make this record. As we were playing, I realized that while I wanted to make a blues record, I didn’t want to just do all 12-bar blues like all these bands play. That has been done to death, let’s face it, and done very well, too. As a fan of gospel music, that could give us a cool repertoire to lay those tunes. When I hooked up with these great musicians, they said, ‘Yeah!’ And that was it.

“It brought me back to where I started, ’cause I just started in bands at dances as a kid,” he adds. “I’ve always enjoyed the visceral element of rhythmic music. I maybe felt more at home in that type of situation, even though I am a jazz guy, and I like a nice concert hall and all of that. I really like when the music plays a social function, too. That makes me feel really happy and part of the world in a different way.”

As a gifted craftsman with an enormous musical vocabulary, one wonders if it’s more challenging for Scofield to play something so relatively straightforward and less complexly-arranged. To go from jazz/improv to gospel and blues — and make it sound beautiful and cool in his own way — might seem like a strange detour, but he didn’t start out as a jazz/fusion cat. Scofield initially played a mix of blues, soul, and rock when he was coming up in his early professional years.

“I want to play simple and deep, and it’s very challenging,” he says. “Playing fast is one thing, but playing slow is a whole different kind of chops. To play something that means something without cluttering up the canvas is very, very difficult. To play a song, you know? To play like a singer … that’s what I’m going for. That’s why I wanted to play blues and these gospel tunes.”

Released just two weeks ago, the funk-filled, spiritualized, 13-song Piety Street was produced in New Orleans at Piety Street Studios with a stellar lineup including John Boutte on vocals, veteran New Orleans musician George Porter, Jr. on bass, Rickie Fataar on drums, and Shannon Powell on drums and tambourine. Calling themselves the Piety Street Band, Scofield and the rhythm section welcomed British ex-pat John Cleary into the touring lineup on piano, organ, and vocals.

“I’ve been a fan of John Cleary and known him for some 18 years or so, but we never really played together,” says Scofield. “When I went to New Orleans, he was kind of on a list of players I loved and knew of. At first, I didn’t even think I could get him. When he was available and we played, it really worked well.”

Bassist George Porter Jr. started jamming on bass lines with the Meters back in 1965. His most recent band project has been with the Porter-Batiste-Stoltz trio.

“If you’re in New Orleans and you want to play this kind of music,” Scofield says, “go no further than George. He’s royalty, from the Meters and all the Allen Toussaint records he played on. It was a no-brainer.”

Scofield actually had several veteran drummers in mind — many of whom could easily record the album, but could not commit to doing a national tour in support of it. Fortunately, he connected with an experienced timekeeper with a unique background. Rickie Fataar worked as a drummer and producer with Ian McLagan (of the Small Faces), Tim Finn, Crowded House, Jenny Morris, Peter Blakeley, and Wendy Matthews before joining Bonnie Raitt’s band in the early 2000s.

“I thought, ‘I’m gonna bring in this great drummer from San Francisco, Ricky Fataar,” Scofield remembers. “He’s a great studio drummer. We were lucky to get him. He really completed this cool quartet.”

Fataar starred in the hilarious 1978 Beatles send-up All You Need Is Cash — a Monty Python-related mockumentary about fictional band the Rutles. Fataar played “Stig O’Hara,” the band’s guitarist, the “George Harrison” of the group, and was comically referred to as “the quiet one” (he had no speaking part in the film).

“Rickie is mostly a drummer, and he’s done a ton of stuff,” chuckles Scofield. “He did this one thing with the Rutles — one little thing that happened to him a long time ago — but everybody remembers it.”

Fortunately for local fans, Charleston gets to see and hear the same players who tracked the album. The Piety Street Band recently toured Europe, so they’re well connected.

“It’s like the album, but the tunes are more stretched out,” says Scofield. “We’ve had a chance to kind of develop after we made the album. Although it’s different from other cats I’ve played with, they’re all very open to improvisation.

“You go where life takes you,” he adds. “I’ve been a soul music fan since I started in music. Somebody might be like, ‘What? What’s he doing? He’s a jazz guy.’ And some may think that I’ve gotten the calling, which in my case is not true. I’m not a member of any organized religion … but that doesn’t mean I’m not a believer, either. I’m just sort of straddling the fence as a music nerd [laughs].”