In their campaign to revivify the power trio concept originated by Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Gov’t Mule always emphasized improvisation. Five years into that initiative, the band in its initial configuration of guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes, bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts, began to alternately fine-tune and expand their approach to jamming by commencing a collaboration with guitarist John Scofield. The esteemed jazz musician, who had worked with Miles Davis and Billy Cobham among others, had just begun his cross-pollination of genres and generations the year prior in recording with Medeski Martin and Wood on A Go Go, so his appearances with Mule at the Georgia Theatre were a natural extension of that effort.
Approximately two hours running time on two CDs, Sco-Mule contains the bulk, though not all, of the four musicians live performances , along with keyboardist Dr. Dan Matrazzo (Col. Bruce Hampton, drummer Jeff Sipe), from two September 1999 evenings in Atlanta. The serious approach the band took is in evidence on the choice of material alone, including not just originals from Gov’t Mule (“Birth of the Mule”) and Scofield (“Hottentot”), but a remarkable range of covers including selections from James Brown (“Pass the Peas”) and saxophonist/composer extraordinaire Wayne Shorter (“Tom Thumb”).
The musicians are clearly up to their chosen task though, their courage to tackle the songs matched by a fearless willingness to stretch out (and with abandon to boot), plus a sharply intuitive ability to react in the moment. The quintet pushes past eighteen minutes on both versions of “Kind of Bird,” a tribute to Charlie Parker co-authored by guitarist Dickey Betts and Haynes, originally in the repertoire of the early 90′s Allman Brothers Band. And on Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” something of a signature song for John Coltrane, the unit goes even further, to the twenty-three minute mark plus, sounding equal parts elegant and limber. Here as elsewhere, the players’ interactions are alternately funky and spacey, but always visceral in their impact, quite likely due to the relish all five share.