(Scala, King’s Cross. 15th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rob Mallows)
I didn’t see Christian Scott at Scala on Wednesday. I did hear him, sure. But I didn’t actually see either him or his band.
So packed was the venue for this much-anticipated gig that this reviewer was stuck right at the back with no sightline to the stage, so I could only catch the briefest of glimpses of the players. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I had no choice but to just listen to the music. And what a treat it was.
Scott is the Louisiana-born, Grammy-nominated trumpet Wunderkind many regard as the ‘heir to Miles’. Self-assured and a natural-born story teller, Scott’s positive energy and swagger triggered the Scala crowd into a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ every solo. His current touring band is young, energised and dripping with musical insouciance: Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Braxton Cook, alto sax; Corey Fonville, drums; and Elena Pinderhughes on flute. The flautist was the highlight of the gig, playing beautifully aerated flute chops which - given the amount of non-playing time Scott had on stage - dominated the music. She is definitely a talent to look out for (heard/reviewed in Montreal here).
Scott and his musicians used the gig to introduce music from a forthcoming triple album combo intended to mark next February's hundredth anniversary of the first recorded jazz music, incorporating themes of tribal identity and togetherness that have become the hallmark of Scott’s storytelling in his music and the - let’s be frank - preaching he is wont to drop in between songs. Frustratingly, track names were thin on the ground, but the tracks on offer provided a real mix of sounds.
We had hip-hop and dance rhythms over a slightly psychedelic opening; some straight-ahead jazz with the most propulsive and stomping walking bass accompaniment; and funked out keyboards from Fields over which Scott’s sparse, sinewy trumpet voice soared, cutting through the absurdly boomy bass frequencies in the sound mix produced by a system so heavy it felt like it might crack open the earth’s crust. The stand-out track was The Last Chieftain, an homage to his grandfather who united the four Black tribes of the Mississippi basin, which was a tremendous sign-off for the set. The track showcased a terrifically talented band playing Scott’s trademark ’stretch’ jazz, which seeks to stretch jazz conventions to encompass the music and language of other cultures, in this case the sounds from the Bayou. It was easy to understand why Scala was rammed full; the audience just couldn’t get enough.
I could have done without the fifteen minutes of band introductions by Scott. Sure, he loves them to bits, but name, instrument and a couple of lines of background will suffice, thank you. That’s fifteen minutes of music we missed out on.
This was, however, a small quibble on a night of music that showed contemporary jazz is in good hands with Christian Scott.