Dred Scott Rides Alone (Amazon) is one of those dry, distinctly Midwestern jazz albums that make great traveling music when you’re driving through a particularly barren landscape. It adds color to the journey in an almost symbiotic way–it’s soft and reflective and easy with plenty going on when you scoot up close to the action. Whenever I talk about this specific type of jazz, I first think of Pat Metheny and then Bill Frisell. It’s dusty and hot and spare, but with an intangible charm that sneaks in and grabs you when you aren’t looking.
Unlike Metheny and Frisell, Dred Scott focuses on the piano–and, in a way, everything else. Dred Scott is a person, yes, and not an idea based upon a landmark legal decision, although those inferences are certainly deliberate and perhaps geographically appropriate. Dred Scott and his trio are unique, however, because all the instruments are played by a single man and not three–piano, bass, drums, percussion and keybaord. In addition, these are all original compositions, making this a true one man band, albeit one that probably doesn’t carry over to live performances. Still, it’s quite impressive to hear one man play all three parts with such confidence.
Even though Dred Scott’s name invokes that Midwestern motif, he recorded Rides Alone in Northern California and was inspired by the time he spent at UCross Foundation in Wyoming (which might qualify as Midwestern in its flatter parts). This is smooth and mellow jazz–but not smooth jazz–that has a relaxed and gentle feel that stretches out to the solos but is still very much based in traditional genres. There’s plenty of space to spread out in these songs, and that geography on the stage serves the illusion of three separate musicians who feed off each other.
If you think about that, you’ll realize that’s probably difficult to do. You’re interacting, in other words, with something that hasn’t happened yet. You’re anticipating. That requires a rigid arrangement, but you simply cannot hear that planning in these tracks. I’m not sure how common this is in the world of jazz, and I certainly can’t think of a trio recording where three men aren’t playing. Dred Scott, however, is not a gimmick. He wouldn’t have this approach if he couldn’t pull it off. He’s not fooling you–he’s simple keeping Rides Alone as simple of a vision as possible, and that’s a genuine treat to hear.