New Orleans Bop
I have a confession to make. It’s not going to be easy, but here goes: I’m jealous of Christian Scott.
Don’t act surprised. Everybody knows a brotha can’t have nothin’ without some other brotha hatin’ on him. Well, I’m that “other brotha.” So let me explain why I’ve been listening to Christian Scott’s Rewind That while sipping from a gallon of Haterade.
First of all, I know what you’re thinking: “Quentin’s just mad because Christian Scott has inherited a musical legacy.” But that’s not it. Yeah, sure, it’s a little convenient (isn’t it?) that Scott just happens to be a native of New Orleans, a city that also just happens to have a long tradition of greatness. Whatever happened to lightning not striking the same place twice? I mean, my goodness! You could compile a list of New Orleans musicians that would put most cities to shame, starting with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, and Terrence Blanchard. And that’s just the trumpet players.
Then there’s Scott’s uncle, Donald Harrison, Jr., who’s a maestro with the alto sax. At age 16, Scott began touring with Harrison, and the young man’s skills flourished under his uncle’s tutelage. Harrison’s skills are legendary; he even originated a style called “Nouveau Swing.” Most musicians struggle to survive the royalty clause of a standard recording contract, let alone lay claim to generating a whole sub-genre of music. Now it looks like Christian Scott could be following in his uncle’s high notes. We could call Scott’s movement “New Orleans bop.”
Oh, did I mention Scott isn’t even 25 yet? He’s, like, 22 and apparently has only been playing the trumpet for 10 years. Yet, he’s been crowned the Tiger Woods of jazz. How can he be so good already? How does he make his horn hit those freakishly sublime notes and create those wildly inventive sonic tapestries, like he does in his album’s title track or in his cover of one of Harrison’s tunes, “Paradise Found”? This kid’s talent is crazy.
Don’t think that’s reason enough to be jealous? What about his enrollment at Berklee College of Music in Boston? The college’s website says it’s “the world’s largest independent music college and the premier institution for the study of contemporary music.” Damn. Not only that but the school’s alumni roster has more famous names in it than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
...including producer/arranger Quincy Jones; rock singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge; Steely Dan leader Donald Fagen; producer and Atlantic Recording Studios VP Arif Mardin; jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton; singer/songwriter Patty Larkin; guitarist John Scofield; Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun; singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn; film composer Alan Silvestri; guitarist and Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks; singer/songwriter Paula Cole; and jazz saxophonist/composer Branford Marsalis.
As if that’s not bad enough, the College offers 12 majors, covering courses as diverse as Digital Mix Techniques, Performance Ear Training for Percussion, Taxation in the Music Business, and The Music of John Lennon. Looking at the course list was enough to make me wonder why I bothered going to law school and becoming an attorney (although other attorneys make me wonder that daily). Shoot, I’d like to take a class called Digital Mix Techniques!
And then there’s Rewind That, Scott’s 11-track debut. What else can you do except be jealous of trumpet playing this textured, this lush, and arrangements this smooth? Not content to simply cover tunes by the greats, Scott has the audacity to compose his own, like the funky tune “Caught Up” or his danceable tribute to his twin brother Kiel. Wait a minute. Twin brother? You mean there are TWO of them? (Kiel, a talented visual artist, contributed some nice photography for the album cover and liner notes.)
This album features Scott’s interplay of music and storytelling, using the actual instruments of course but also the song titles themselves to create a package of tunes that sound like the score for a collection of short stories or miniature films. I felt this way when I first heard the album and was further convinced by Scott’s comments on the press release, “Everyone wanted me to do a straight-ahead album, but that’s like meeting a woman and trying to be like her last boyfriend. You’ve got to be special.” There he goes again (sigh), insisting on being different.
The album opens with the title track “Rewind That” and its singular guitar riff by Matt Stevens. It’s an interesting start, and the guitar work creates anticipation, sets the mood, and sends the message that this album, musically, is going to subvert your expectations. Say goodbye to the jazz you thought you knew, this is something different, innovative. Jazz Conservatives, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t young musicians supposed to be playing in a traditional style? If so, y’all need to have a talk with Mr. Scott, ‘cause I don’t think he got the memo.
“Rewind That” embodies Scott’s boast about what you’ll want to do with his music. Despite my jealousy, I can’t even count the times I replayed the title track to absorb that killer guitar riff, that swooning bass, and that awesome trumpet. The second and third songs, “Say It” and “Like This”, present the album’s first two “stories.” True, their musical arrangements and tempos are different, but they seem like companions (“Say It”, “Like This” – go on, say them together a few times). On “Say It” the exquisite guitar work continues, providing the necessary undercurrent to complement Scott’s focused lead, particularly when there’s a bridge. Those bridges remind me of Greek epics in which the writer begins by invoking the Muse for strength in telling the story. In this instance, Scott’s horn symbolizes the writer, and the guitar speaks for the Muse. And so the Muse commands the writer/trumpeter to go on and “say it,” to tell the tale. “Like This” shows us the writer’s own vision, a response to the Muse’s command, “You told me to say it. Now I’m going to say it like this.”
A similar grouping develops midway through the album. It begins with track five (“Rejection”), continues through tracks six and seven (“Lay in Vein” and “She”), and culminates in track eight (“Suicide”). The sadness in these songs is palpable—no wonder “Like this” is the only song on the album in a major key. The soft gloom of “Rejection” gives way to the rock-oriented “Lay in Vein” (I bet Scott thinks he’s clever with that wordplay on “vein” and “vain”). Scott’s trumpet dances, as if imitating a drug-induced high, then it comes down quickly at the end as the song poignantly fades away. “She” sounds similar to “Lay”, but the melancholy is more pronounced even as the song tries to flutter away from its blues. “Suicide” reminds me of a person falling in slow motion (if such a thing can truly have a sound). At times, it seems too slow, and almost becomes lethargic. Put these songs together and they tell a story of rejection that leads to addiction, lamentation, and life-altering consequences.
That all sounded pretty good, didn’t it? Well, Scott’s press release explained “Say It” as a response to an experience with racism, while “Like This” was written for a woman he dated. “Rejection” involves the break-up of a romantic relationship, “She” is about the girl who got away, and “Lay in Vein” is about the drug overdose of a childhood friend. Meanwhile, Scott dedicates “Suicide” to sufferers of a rare disease who daily resist the urge to escape pain by escaping life. It’s bad enough he’s got everybody thinking he’s the best thing since sheet music; now we see him creating gems with timeless themes on his first try. And what’s more, his rich compositions allow for varying interpretations while maintaining the music’s integrity. Don’t even get me started on his update of the classic Miles Davis joint “So What”. When will he stop?
Apparently never. And all jealousy aside, I sincerely hope he doesn’t.