Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Edison Award winning trumpeter-composer-producer-bandleader Christian Scott stands tall among a handful of talented young jazz artists who are expanding their artistic vision beyond the strict confines of the genre’s tradition. Throughout his career, Scott has been an intrepid explorer, from his Grammy nominated debut Rewind That to his genre stretching last album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow. Scott ups the ante on his compelling new double album, Christian aTunde Adjuah, an inspired and provocative two-CD, 23-track collection that spans a range of beyond-jazz influences as he continues to make strides into uncharted jazz territory.
With Scott’s trumpet at the heart of most of the tunes, the album features reflective ballads, light and dreamy soundscapes, guitar-edged and rock-inflected cookers, trumpet ecstasies as well as clarion calls and anguished wails. Scott’s band consists of guitarist Matthew Stevens, drummer Jamire Williams, bassist Kristopher Keith Funn and pianist Lawrence Fields (Fields’ piano sound is often spiced for effect by using paper on the instrument’s strings), with guests including tenor saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III, alto saxophonist Louis Fouche IIII and trombonist Corey King.
In the liner notes to Christian aTunde Adjuah, addressed as a “Letter to a Future Artist,” the New Orleans-born, Harlem-based Scott writes, “As an artist, I am always attempting to do things that haven’t been done. This goes beyond simply trying to be adept at something. It requires the ability to revisit past thought processes while considering new landscapes…” In conversation, he adds, “It’s all about the willingness to forge new paths and seek new terrain while excavating one’s own past as a means of gaining a better contextual understanding of that path.”
Scott describes what he plays on Christian aTunde Adjuah as “stretch music,” much like he introduced on his 2010 album, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow. In his liners, he writes about people calling his approach “stretch,” and notes, “It’s true that we are attempting to stretch—not replace—jazz’s rhythmic, melodic and harmonic conventions to encompass as many musical forms/languages/cultures as we can. My core belief is that no form of expression is more valid than any other. This belief has compelled me to attempt to create a sound that is genre blind in its acculturation of other musical forms, languages, textures, conventions and processes.”
Scott likens his “stretch music” to a musical version of a cubist painter’s rendering of an object.
In cubism, objects are taken apart, analyzed and reassembled in an abstracted form that depicts the object from a multitude of perspectives. This gives a more global viewing of what the object is comprised of—a more clear representation of what the object (or in Scott’s case, sentiment through sound) is. “It is a violent attempt to rid the listener of any uncertainty of meaning or intention and to enforce a more focused reading of the sentiment being articulated,” Scott says, adding that to do this musically he had to create a new harmonic convention he calls a Forecasting Cell, which is a sound that illuminates the end result of a harmonic sentence preceding its actual resolution. He says, “Forecasting Cells help in making the intentions of the improviser clearer by coercing improviser and accompanist to constantly re-evaluate the [harmonic/melodic] landscape which in turn sharpens the communal dialogue of the unit.”
As for the CD’s title, Scott says, “This is the first time I knew the title of one of my albums before I recorded it.” Scott explains, “The cover. The album. Everything represents the completion of my name. I am Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. The addition of the names aTunde and Adjuah, which come from two cities in the West African nation of Benin, which is present day Ghana, is just a way for me to tell the world that I accept all of my past and am willing to explore it. So in a sense I haven’t changed my name. I’ve completed it to reflect another part of my ancestry and lineage—the part before Scott.”
Christian aTunde Adjuah opens with “Fatima Aisha Rokero 400,” where the trumpeter boldly soars over Stevens’ guitar and eerie muses. The song is about the ethnic cleansing, kidnapping and more specifically the rape of 400 indigenous African Sudanese women in the town of Rokero. “Fatima Aisha Rokero 400” is broken into four parts, each representing 100 women victimized by the region’s Janjaweed. The next tune is the rhythmic bouncer, “New New Orleans (King Adjuah Stomp),” that is a marriage of the music of the Afro-Native American tradition of New Orleans, colloquially known as the Black Indians (of which Scott is a member—note his feathered attire on the CD cover) with traditional second-line stomp rhythms and Bounce Music. The song represents the resilience of post-Katrina New Orleans.
The first disc continues with the light, quiet, muted-trumpet “Who They Wish I Was” about how a lot of people have equated Scott’s band with the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the ’60s; the pounding “Pyrrhic Victory of aTunde Adjuah” about the negative reactions of people to Scott’s name completion; the dance-like waltz tribute “Of Fire (Les Filles de la Nouvelle Orleans)” about the “forged-in-fire” beauty of the women in New Orleans; and the melancholic, agonizing “Dred Scott,” a song about the historical man who was born a slave and unsuccessfully sued for freedom in the U.S. “This piece is a conceptualist dirge with a drag to the music,” Scott says.
CD No. 1 also includes the poignant and chilling “vs. the Kleptocratic Union (Ms. McDowell’s Crime),” a reflection on the real-life story of a homeless black woman named Tanya McDowell who is now in a Connecticut jail for sending her child to a public school without being a resident of the district; the epic, ruminative “Danziger,” with a fervent trumpet cry at the end, about the police killings of innocent people in New Orleans in 2005; and the first of three short interludes on the album: “Kuro Shinobi,” an impromptu jazz/hip-hop trio tune by Fields, Funn and Williams (the other two interludes appear on the second disc: the R&B ditty “Van Gogh” and Fields’ piano piece “Cumulonimbus” played in a classical elegance mixed with West Coast hip-hop rhythms).
Plus, there are two family songs. The first is the rhythmically skittering, celebratory “Spy Boy Flag Boy” about Scott’s role as a Spy Boy, the tribe’s scout, and his brother Kiel’s role as the tribe’s diplomat, or Flag Boy, in their New Orleans-based Black Indian lineage. The song, based on the rhythms of that culture, also pays homage to their grandfather Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., the only man to be chief of four different tribes. The second is “Kiel,” a reflective musical portrait of his twin brother, the critically acclaimed award winning young director. Another tune to “Kiel” appears on Scott’s 2006 album, Rewind That, his Concord Jazz debut. “The new song about Kiel and the new “Cara” on the second CD—about my mother—express how my feelings and thoughts have evolved over the years,” says Scott. “I wanted to update the sounds I associated with my family to reflect those sentiments.”
CD No. 2 opens with the catchy melody, guitar-growled, hopeful “The Berlin Patient (CCR5)” about the AIDS patient from San Francisco who was cured via an experimental treatment in Berlin; the trumpet-grinding “Jihad Joe” about the soldiers on the other side of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars and the idea that there are multiple perspectives in war; the melodic tune “Liar Liar” about the deception-filled end of a relationship; and the beauty of the album, the ballad “I Do,” that Scott wrote to celebrate his engagement.
Other tracks include the funky-grooved “Alkebu Lan” (the pre-Greek name for the continent of Africa); Stevens’ easy-going, lyrical “Bartlett” (where Scott plays trumpet in a three-and-a-half-octaves range, which he jokingly says must have been his guitarist’s payback for all the difficult things he’s made him play over the years); the snappy-drum patterned “When Marissa Stands her Ground”(formerly titled “Trayvon”) that addresses the recent killing in Florida of an innocent black teen; and “Away (Anuradha & the Maiti Nepal)” about sex slave trafficking.
After all the socially conscious tunes, Scott ends the album with the rollicking, good-fun “The Red Rooster,” inspired by the club/restaurant in Harlem two blocks from his house on Lenox Ave. where he says, “something is really brewing,” in terms of community building; and the romantic beauty “Cara” with Scott’s breathy trumpet lines over Fields’ rich piano comping (the other “Cara” piece appeared on Scott’s 2002 eponymous debut album on Impromp2 Records). Scott says, “There’s no better way to end the album because it’s a song for my mother who sacrificed everything for Kiel and me.”
A tour de force masterwork, Christian aTunde Adjuah opens a wide window on Scott’s present, as well as his past, and his auspicious creative future. In his liners, Scott writes that the listener will hear the stretching of jazz on the album: “That is what I hope younger people will be able to take away from it as well—the idea that innovation should never be regarded as a problem in artistic practice, that one should always be aware of what has come before, and finally, that criticisms shouldn’t evoke paralysis, [but] should inspire action.”