All amazing albums. All have guitar playing or compositions that are really pushing the envelope of the time they were made in. Maybe Bar Talk isn't in that list, especially by how people talk about it now (or don't talk about it at all). Allmusic.com says it was pretty well received. I could just be crazy, or not talking to enough people.
Enough about the reception, let's talk about the meat and potatoes of this album. First of all, Scofield sounds hungry. New Strings Attached is a pretty aggressive tune for a jazz guitar trio in 1980, Steve Swallow's electric bass certainly contributes to that sound. Everybody gets to stretch out on these tunes, obviously Scofield does most being the leader, and it's wonderful. His phrasing has always been his strong suit, and on New Strings Attached, Scofield really shows it. He keeps throwing out new ideas over Swallow pedaling in the bass, and resolving each phrase beautifully. A few surprisingly large leaps keep you guessing. It's the kind of playing that makes you want to go and do your homework for something you'll only achieve 8 years later on a gig some night. Not cerebral or technically flashy, just gutsy and strong.
Swallow throws down here, really contributing a lot of dynamic when comping. His solos are straight gorgeous - even if they run into the question "how do you build a bass solo in intensity?" that found a mediocre answer in effect pedals a decade or two later and a better answer in having an extremely sympathetic drummer.
Fat Dancer is another standout track, a little slower but just as strong. Adam Nussbaum's playing is great as well - I wish I was smarter and more adept to be able to describe his playing in more detail. This album is one I dig out every few years and wonder why I haven't transcribed anything from it yet, or learned a few of the tunes to play in a group. I think it's time to do that now.