By Mark Fuller ’19
Jazz is hard. It’s hard to understand, it’s hard to play, and with so many sprawling twelve-minute songs, it can be super hard to listen to. But with all of that noted, I promise that Christian Scott is worth your time.
Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah is a 32 year old trumpet player from New Orleans. He studied at the Berkelee School of Music, and is one of the most talented trumpet players of our generation. His new album Stretch Music came out on Sept. 18, and you should listen to it as soon as you can.
There’s a stigma surrounding jazz music that often turns young people away from it, but Stretch Music is only jazz music in theory. The first big buzz that Scott received was for his 2012 single, “The Eraser.” That’s right, it’s a Thom Yorke tune. This clearly isn’t the jazz that you associate with middle-aged men, and this is because Christian Scott is very well-versed in all types of music. He equally draws influences from the hard bop of Lee Morgan, the complex math rock of Radiohead, and the classic hip-hop of J. Dilla. His ultimate goal is to bring jazz back to the forefront of music, or at the very least bring it away from the dying periphery of culture where it is now. So yes, he does play jazz, and it is just as complex as you would expect, but it’s also something recognizable to any listener.
Many jazz purists argue that Christian Scott doesn’t make jazz music because he doesn’t use a basic swing pattern found in almost all “classic” jazz. And while this is true, Christian Scott accesses an even more fundamental part of jazz music: expression. The genre of jazz was born as a means for musicians to express their anger with society. The dissonant chord progressions set the tone for the musician to vent through his horn, so as long as you had something to say, you could play jazz. This idea, however, got lost in complex theory and vast changes in the landscape of jazz. Christian Scott has brought expression back to jazz. He is using his music and his stature to challenge listeners to question what they believe. Most of his songs are politically charged, some of the most obvious being “The Last Broken Heart (Prop 8),” about the decision to pass Proposition 8 in California, which effectively made same sex marriage illegal; “Dred Scott,” about the infamous Dred Scott case; and “KKPD” which stands for Klu Klux Police Department, and is about the night he was pulled over and arrested by the police in his hometown of New Orleans. This man has something to say, and he deserves your attention.
The album Stretch Music itself is incredible. The opening song is called “Sunrise in Beijing,” and it may be the strongest song on the album. The song starts with a blend of piano and strings unlike any I have ever heard. A hard driving and extremely complex drumbeat kicks in a few bars later, and is followed by a trading of melody between Scott’s trumpet and Elena Pinderhughes on flute. Even though the melody they play is tempered, the drums make the arrangement feel like it is teetering on the edge of complete chaos while sounding absolutely gorgeous. The album continues from this high point and reaches another peak with the song “TWIN,” a song in which Scott plays a duet with himself, and is almost battling the other trumpet until the two parts split off and complement each other in an almost mariachi sounding fanfare.
“Liberation over Gangsterism,” which again features Pinderhughes on flute is possibly the most important song on the album. It finds Christian Scott at his most vulnerable. We can hear him struggling with modern culture and bias, and even with his own image, eventually dropping out of the song and letting Pinderhughes take control as if he has lost in the fight against himself and given in to the idea that he has no voice in society. The most interesting sequencing of the album comes with the relation between “Tantric,” and “The Last Chieftan.” “Tantric” is an introspective song with Scott using something called the whisper technique to make his tone darker and sweeter. However, what is unusual is his choice in backing drums, where he steals a snare that is used in exclusively trap and rap music. It’s an interesting choice, and while it should be completely out of place in a jazz ballad, it fits into this one perfectly. “Tantric” is immediately followed by “The Last Chieftain,” which sports a rock-ready guitar riff from former bandmate Matthew Stevens. The flow of the two songs should not work, but in keeping with the wide range of this album, the two songs blend together perfectly.
The album is based off a fundamental contradiction that this is not a jazz album within the genre of jazz, and the entire album works upon that concept. It makes things work that shouldn’t work with ease and complete confidence.