Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hip-Hop Bebop: Christian Scott in Las Vegas City Life

As mentioned earlier this week, below is my feature on Christian Scott, as published in Las Vegas City Life.

Come on, someone, anyone: Fly me out to the show in Las Vegas.

Hip-hop bebop
Jazz trumpeter Christian Scott ventures outside the box

Christian Scott


MUSICAL IDENTITY, for a jazz artist, can alternately be a gift and a trap. Carve out a reputation as a certain type of player -- say, a dynamic instrumentalist and improviser playing heady, bebop-rooted acoustic jazz -- and fellow musicians, audiences and critics alike will know what to expect from your work. Step outside the borders, and risk failure and criticism.

Christian Scott, whose eclectic 2006 debut, Rewind That, alerted listeners inside and outside of jazz circles to the arrival of a dynamic young trumpeter, has experienced exactly that type of a career dilemma. Influenced by the playing of his uncle, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Scott attended the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, where pianist Ellis Marsalis mentored a generation of jazz artists. He studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and relocated to New York City in 2004, along the way watching his musical interests expand far beyond jazz, as demonstrated on his striking, moody Anthem album.

"Mardi Gras Indians are in my family's history, and I play with brass bands now and then," says Scott, 24. "But I never want to be too tied in with the New Orleanian line of trumpet players. You say that and people write you off and put you in a category. I don't need to hear Wynton [Marsalis] say what he thinks about I should be doing musically. In recent times, I've really started to develop these pet peeves about musicianship and musicians. I don't get off on cats having the stance that they can tell you what you're supposed to be playing, or tell you what you should be doing, harmonically or musically. [Thelonious] Monk wasn't telling Miles [Davis] what to do."

Scott certainly goes his own way on Anthem, applying his gorgeous tone -- on trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn -- to atmospheric pieces variously dominated by brooding piano, churning guitars, fusion lines, bebop passages, and hip-hop and funk beats. "Anthem (Postdiluvial Adaptation)" is a collaboration with Brother J of X-Clan. The two first worked together on "Prisons," from this year's Return From Mecca, and the rapper immediately was sympathetic to the ideas Scott wanted to express regarding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. "Was it genocide by drowning or homicide by clowning with time?" Brother J asks on the piece, as Scott's horn and Matt Stevens' dirty six-string snake around each other, over tumbling rock rhythms. "Was it racism on Pennsylvania?"

The trumpeter said he felt obligated to speak out about the tragedy. "A lot of the music on the new album came from that," says Scott. "The New Orleans situation is a problem. What we're doing in Iraq is a problem. What we're not doing in Darfur is a problem. It's not like some abstract thing happening; it's hard not wanting to effect change. Earlier musicians felt they had a stake in saying what was wrong economically and politically. I go all over the world and see that people are vying for a voice."

Scott has worked with other musicians outside the jazz fold, including singer Jill Scott and Mos Def, joining the hip-hop star for a sold-out show at New York's Highline Ballroom. And he has forged a connection with Prince. The Purple One, hipped to Scott via television host Tavis Smiley, asked Scott to sit in with him on an after-hours jam session performance of Miles Davis's "So What" at former Rio club 3121. "We talked for about 45 minutes, about life and music," says Scott. He subsequently joined Prince for several full sets at the club, and nabbed an invitation to Paisley Park, where he recorded several tracks for Prince's new Planet Earth album.

"I wanted to be quiet and just process what was going on, but he wouldn't let me. Every five minutes, he was like 'Check this out' and 'What do you think about this?' " Scott says. "He told me he thinks what I'm doing with my band is like if Miles and Jimi [Hendrix] had a baby together. I'd be a pretty ugly baby."

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