The scene opens on lonely janitor Larry Goldings, with bucket and mop, working after-hours, eyeing an unused Hammond B3 organ under a spotlight in an otherwise dark studio. Gingerly, he presses down the D key. He recoils at the sound. A brief hesitation and he gathers the courage to hit a full-on chord. The scene erupts, cutting to the actual session at which Scary Goldings IV was recorded. The band is in full brilliant color, absolutely ripping, with MonoNeon on bass next to guitar legend John Scofield, the irrepressible Louis Cole on drums, plus of course the principals of the roving funk collective known as Scary Pockets: high school buddies Ryan Lerman on guitar (Musical Director and guitarist for the likes of John Legend, Michael Bublé and Ben Folds) and Jack Conte on Wurlitzer (CEO of Patreon and coleader of the band Pomplamoose). Put them all together and you’ve got the intergenerational Pockets sub-unit Scary Goldings.
This one-minute “janitor” promo spot, steeped in Goldings’ signature deadpan humor, offers the briefest glimpse of what went down at the Scary Goldings IV sessions. But with the rollout of full-length videos from those two magical days, and the release of the resulting album, we now get the full experience. Prepare yourselves.
Admitting to a bit of starstruck awe working with Scofield, Lerman offers: “Just having another guitar player in the band makes you approach things differently, so there’s that to navigate. I grew up listening to Scofield since I was 14, so there were slight nerves to contend with, but he was so encouraging and humble. We all had dinner the night before and Larry and Sco were telling stories and it was so fun to hear them talk. In the studio the next day I felt like, ‘Wow— that sound that I’m used to hearing through my speakers at 14 is now coming out of the amp next to me.’ I definitely had moments of pinching myself and nerding out.”
The first day of recording, sans Scofield, featured the superb Tamir Barzilay on drums. The following day it was Scofield with drummer Lemar Carter (Raphael Saadiq, Demi Lovato) in the morning and Louis Cole for the rest. “Tamir, Lemar and Louis are so different,” Lerman says, “and it was great to hear the same band with that moving element, the same drum kit even.” Neither Goldings nor Scofield had played with bassist MonoNeon prior to the session. “We obviously have our influences that come in,” Goldings says, “partly because of the instrumentation, we might go in a direction that’s a bit Meters or Booker T, stuff like that. But with MonoNeon, anything we came up with was going to sound great. He’s a man of few words — he’s there to absorb and respond. You know he’s heard everything and is ready for anything. So bold, just going for shit.”
Lerman points to engineer Caleb Parker and mixer Craig Polasko as essential to Scary Goldings IV and previous outings as well. Polasko, a bassist, met Lerman when they both toured together with Michael Bublé. “When Craig got off the road he started making these tracks that were like these dubby sound collages, really cool. His approach to mixing is more creative and producorial than a more traditional mixer might bring, the way he keeps the tracks sounding very live but does all these other things sonically. He’s very hands-on.”
Scary Goldings debuted eponymously in 2018 and followed up with The Ego Trap (2019, featuring guitar great Robben Ford) and Feel (with Josh Smith and Louis Cole) in 2020. For Scary Goldings IV, Lerman and Conte followed the speedy procedure they’d refined with Scary Pockets itself: groove-based songs, spontaneously cowritten, recorded right away, “players all in the same room with no headphones, no click,” in Lerman’s words, and nothing but the excitement of a fresh musical invention and the drive of the individual talents in the room to make it come alive.
Scary Goldings IV fell together just like that, prompting Goldings to remark: “If you get the right people into a studio you can make records really quickly. Just look at the history of jazz. One of the gifts that Jack has is to know when a song is ready. We have this short time frame, so we can’t be too clever. It’s kind of like guerrilla writing, which is a very good exercise. Scofield really liked it and thought it was so refreshing.”
Goldings is also pleased with how the group “pulls together the different strands that I’ve been involved in over the years,” he adds. “My Maceo Parker years, the funkier side of things that I’ve done, because as a leader I’ve never really put together a project to do that.” Scofield’s band, in fact, is one of the funkier ones in the Goldings discography, and their shared history runs deep — back to 1994’s Hand Jive all the way to 2016’s Country for Old Men, not to mention the 2006 ECM summit with Jack DeJohnette Trio Beyond: Saudades.
Lerman, Conte and Cole go back as well: “Louis and I met when I was 14 at Stanford Jazz Workshop, where we were put in the same combo. We were randomly paired up as roommates the next year. So I met Jack at 14 and Louis probably a year or two later. Louis and I had an organ trio in college with our friend Andrew Carroll, and we did a couple tours with Jack. We had a two-Prius tour, we’d book it ourselves and go up and down the West Coast playing for very small crowds. One show there was literally nobody in the audience. We’ve paid our dues.”
Louis Cole was 10 years old, Goldings estimates, when the two of them first met. “There’s a great old photo,” Lerman says, “of Larry and Louis playing together and Louis looks like a child Bill Stewart.” Goldings reflects: “I’ve always known it’s the younger generation that’s going to keep turning me onto new people. Through Scary Pockets, Ryan has exposed me to some great drummers, bassists, and all these under-the-radar singers I’d love to work in other contexts. It’s been a great way to extend the Los Angeles thing for me, and particularly people Ryan’s age. He’s 12.”
“Jack and I really view these sessions as, ‘We don’t have to do a lot,’” Lerman says. “We’re there to maintain vibe and direction but we really don’t want to overplay.” “To set up tightly all in one room is not the norm anymore,” Goldings adds, “but it really encourages listening and playing with dynamics, not unlike playing a live gig. It’s old-school, and really refreshing in this day and age.”
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