CD Review: Christian Scott - Christian aTunde Adjuah

Christian Scott - Christian aTunde Adjuah.
(Concord CJA-33237-02. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

US trumpeter Christian Scott calls his music ‘stretch’ music- stretching across musical history and genres, and across this 23-track double album, released in July 2012 (*), the trumpeter, born in New Orleans, living in NYC, Scott draws together traditional New Orleans beats and urban jazz-rock- as he says, excavating the past while finding new paths. For example, the first track of this album, Fatima Aisha Rokero 400, ‘… ties into the Black Indian tradition…’, says Scott. There’s a strident trumpet call over wild drumming. There’s grungy strummed guitar (‘…stuff that sounds like Radiohead…’) and Spanish-influenced improvisation (‘… a spaghetti western…’).

Scott’s family is from the Afro-Native American tradition of New Orleans, or Black Indian culture, with a major role in the Mardi Gras carnival. The CD cover shows Scott in full feathered regalia. Spy Boy/Flag Boy spells it out- Scott is the lookout, or Spyboy, for his tribe; his twin brother Kiel is Flag Boy. Jamire Williams’ driving drums bring the characteristic Black Indian combination of New Orleans and West African beats, behind the joyful authoritative trumpet theme; Scott plays as if he’s sure of his place in the world. New New Orleans (King Adjuah Stomp) is Scott’s post-Katrina attempt to bring together the different kinds of music heard on the streets, before and after the hurricane. Again, Williams’ complex grooves are vital, with indie guitar arpeggios from Matthew Stevens, trumpet cries, a melding of joy and darkness.

Scott is often compared to Miles Davis, and perhaps Of Fire (Les Filles de la Nouvelle Orleans) alludes to the latter’s Les Filles de Kilimanjaro. Scott’s harmon-muted trumpet broods over a 6/8 rocky guitar riff, and luscious backing horns (Louis Fouche: alto sax, Corey King: trombone). Alkebu Lan (an ancestral name for Africa) sounds as if its irresistible rhythms are drawn from thumb piano. Scott calls on his African heritage in Pyrrhic Victory of aTunde Adjuah. aTunde Adjuah is Scott’s new, or ‘completed’ name as he puts it, taken from the names of Ghanaian towns. The title’s ambivalence and the trumpet’s stridence describe his difficulties in ‘…de-westernizing your name in America; you can't know it till you do it.’ Africa and modern rock meet in the stupendous drum solo over Lawrence Fields’ Coldplay-like piano chords.

Scott describes his music as 'socially-charged':The Berlin Patient (who’s cured of AIDS) has an uplifting trumpet theme, New Orleans beat and distorted guitar chords. Scott’s angry about man’s inhumanity to man (and woman)- and there’s a fury in his playing which strips away any sentimentality. The battling 7/8 groove of Jihad Joe, written to '…spark a dialogue about war…’ has some of Scott’s most compelling playing: ferocious chromatic runs and emphatic yowls. Stevens’ driven guitar solo is harmonically fascinating, a little like Adam Rogers but perhaps rockier. Danziger has piano block chords to create the groove over free-ish drumming. The melody is melancholic and yearning, a lament for innocent victims of police shootings after the hurricane. Vs. Kleptocratic Union (Ms Macdowell’s Crime), with its Monkish intervals and Metheny-esque guitar, draws attention to the plight of a woman imprisoned for sending her 6-year-old to a school in the wrong town.

It was a surprise to hear the tender pieces Scott has written for this album, played with his breathy ‘whisper’ technique. I Do, for his fiancée, is a sweet ballad with a big heartbeat, trumpet lines entwining exquisitely with Kenneth Whalum III’s soulful sax. In Kiel, for his brother, Scott perhaps sounds most like Miles. The slow, spacious melody unfolds over distant Black Indian drums, with a tinge of dissonance in the harmony. Cara (for Scott’s mother) concludes the album: a duet for hymn-like piano and dreamy trumpet, evoking Tomasz Stańko.

This is a deeply satisfying album, stretching across anger, love and festivity. Scott and his band have created music of great beauty and power.

(*) This review is from a backlog of unreviewed CDs. LondonJazz News has recently moved to a new system of CD review commissioning, which is being co-ordinated by Catherine Ford.

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