Over the past two decades, pianist Dred Scott has earned a rabid cult following for his gonzo, noir-tinged style. His long-running weekly midnight residency at Rockwood Music Hall with his trio – bassist Ben Rubin and drummer Diego Voglino – is legendary, and was immortalized on a live album in 2007. Scott further enhanced his reputation for darkly surreal erudition as a member of pyrotechnic art-song chanteuse Carol Lipnik’s band. His latest album, Dred Scott Rides Alone – streaming at Bandcamp – is a departure in that Scott plays all the instruments including bass and drums, and more than competently. There’s also more solidity here than in his relentlessly restless past. He’s playing the album release show tomorrow night, Oct 13 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood with his trio; cover is $12
The new album is Scott’s most concise, straightforward and arguably tuneful release to date. The shuffling first track, Coal Creek Road is a gospel-tinged, animatedly crescendoing pastoral theme: imagine Bruce Hornsby playing in Steely Dan instead of the Dead. With the second number, Wonder, Scott pairs glistening variations on an impressionistic theme with pointillistic bass: the flickering cymbal work as the piece falls away, down to a tersely dancing piano solo, is choice, hardly what you’d expect from a guy whose usual axe is the 88s. The crescendo up from there is even more striking.
Gateway – a St. Louis shout-out, maybe? – has an easygoing second-line rhythm underpinning variations on a catchy gospel-infused riff. Likewise, Flying Bighorn has a hard-hitting gleam over a steady vamp, shifting in and out of straight-up swing as Scott navigates further from the center, finally returning to a circling, gracefully tumbling piano-drum outro.
Remember PN has a verdant, Pat Metheny-ish early-spring chill, Scott shifting from spare, stately chords to an altered jazz waltz, a tersely punchy bass solo and then a remarkably spare one on the piano where he finally rises to cluster and lustre.
Wistful Waitsian blues piano variations and airy string synth textures permeate Consolations, over a steady midtempo sway that grows funkier and bluesier. It’s closer to the wry sensibility Scott has made a name for himself with over the years.
Wild Turkeys is classic, rollocking Scott, a jubilantly haphazard New Orleans shuffle tune: again, he showcases his prowess as deviously capable drummer and bassist as well as on the keys. The album winds up with Goodbye America, a bittersweetly workmanlike, saturnine Donald Fagen-ish stroll that no doubt inspired by recent events. Throughout his Rockwood residency, Scott really used to pack ‘em in, so if you’re going to the release show, it couldn’t hurt to get there early. Hint: beat the lines and use the Orchard Street entrance.