Saturday, September 22, 2007

Christian Scott: Beyond Jazz

I recently spoke with Christian Scott, a young New York trumpeter born and raised in New Orleans, for a feature to appear this week in Las Vegas City Life. Christian, 24, is the nephew of great NOLA saxophonist and bandleader Donald Harrison, and both have direct ties to the city's modern/mainstream jazz movement and to the rich musical and cultural heritage of the Mardi Gras Indians.

The first time I saw Christian was when he was a teenager, sitting in with his uncle's band at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street, still THE place for top-shelf jazz in the Crescent City. He's heavily influenced by the playing of his hero, Miles Davis, and New Orleans trumpeter Blanchard, Donald Harrison's musical partner in an underappreciated quintet of the '80s/'90s. His other big influences, on trumpet, are Freddie Hubbard and Clifford Brown.

"When I hear that music (straight-ahead jazz) it makes my blood boil (in a good way). That's my foundation," Christian said earlier this week, by telephone from a tour stop in Malibu. "When I was going on the road at 14 years old, that's what I was doing - hard bop. We were playing 'If I were a Bell' and 'Giant Steps.' I love to do it. Right now, for my life, I have to make a choice not to do it as mauch as I do my own music."

These days, though, Christian is emphasizing a heady, hypnotizing combination of jazz, funk, hip-hop, fusion and, yes, even heavy rock, all of which are heard on his just-released Anthem, his second widely distributed CD. He still excels at "acoustic jazz," and he says that he loves playing it, but lately he's making all kinds of connections beyond jazz, sitting in with Prince and playing on the Purple One's new Planet Earth CD, and variously working with Brother J of X-Clan and Mos Def.

Christian shortly will be seen on the big screen, playing "the bandleader" in George Clooney's romantic comedy period piece Leatherheads and making an appearance in Jonathan Demme's comedy Dancing With Shiva.

Below is my review of the CD; a different version of this review appears in the October issue of Down Beat.

Christian Scott

What’s a young jazz artist to do for a follow-up act when the aggressive playing and conceptually provocative work of his debut album have industry observers grabbing superlatives and reaching for Miles Davis comparisons, and non-professional listeners being so taken by the freshness of the musician’s approach that they tell other friends, who tell others, and so on? That was the dilemma faced by New Orleans firebrand Christian Scott, a young trumpeter whose 2006 debut simultaneously drew on and departed from a Crescent City musical lineage including his uncle, saxophonist Donald Harrison, and other graduates of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

Scott opts to again go his own way with Anthem, which doesn't sound like any other CDs you'll find this year filed under "jazz." The disc’s opening trio of tracks – aggressive, atmospheric, minor-toned – juxtapose the leader’s gorgeous long tones, played on his main horn as well as the smaller cornet and more mellow flugelhorn, against brooding piano and Matt Stevens’ churning, dirty guitars. Scott uses repetitive figures and rising-and-falling textures to produce plenty of drama on “Litany Against Fear,” “Void” and “Anthem (Antediluvian Adaptation).”

X-Clan rapper Brother J, on the reprise of the title track, mentions "the hurricane” in his address on societal ills. That Which Would Not Be Named is directly named on “Katrina’s Eyes,” a lovely ballad gaining much from the harmonies created by Scott and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III.

Elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag, with Scott playing against Marcus Gilmore’s hip-hop drumming on “Re:”; fusion-style guitar coloring “Dialect”; the horn players offering a zippy harmony head on the bebop-meets-hiphop “The 9”; and light funk anchoring sweet ballad “Like That.” Neither smooth nor straight-ahead, acid jazz nor fusion, Scott’s latest recording constitutes a jazz planet of its own making. Glad I can visit the place.

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