Despite being one of the few modern, young jazz musicians to reach a certain level of popularity that eludes most current jazzmen, Christian Scott appears to feel attacked much of the time. The liner notes of the album contain a three-page essay on his ruminations concerning his elders in New Orleans bemoaning his music’s lack of bebop and swing rhythms, while the press release claims “Pyrrhic Victory of aTunde Adjuah” is a track expressing Scott’s disappointment over the negative energy he’s received since “completing [his] name”.
But through the frustration he’s felt in the two years since Yesterday You Said Tomorrow was released to near-universal critical acclaim (including from this writer) Scott’s also managed to siphon that emotion into a sort of mental breakthrough, thoroughly embracing his New Orleans Black Indian heritage (Tremé, anyone?) via the album art, his name and the subjects of some of the tracks here (“Spy Boy / Flag Boy”, “The Red Rooster”). There are also a few moments where he and his band – Jamire Williams (drums), Kris Funn (bass) and Matthew Stevens (guitar) return while Lawrence Fields replaces Milton Fletcher on the keys – attempt to embrace more traditional jazz values, though these are often fleeting in the service of proving old and new can meet halfway, if just for a moment.
Mostly, Christian aTunde Adjuah continues to emphasize Scott’s apparent interest in the qualities of post-rock performers like Mogwai and Do Make Say Think. While his trumpet no doubt plays lead throughout the album, it’s often hard to avoid getting the impression this time around that Matthew Stevens has earned equal sway within the band. Many of the tracks’ most dominant melodies are his, with Scott’s trumpet taking control by sheer volume as much as tonal impact. He is still by the far the most agreeable thing about this record, the reason you’d want to keep coming back for more, but this two disc set does feature plenty of songs that feel like a rock band playing host to a trumpet soloist rather than the other way around.
This is where Scott’s description of his compositional style – termed “stretch” or “forecasting cell” in his liners – comes into play. “Stretch jazz” essentially feels like an easy way to avoid saying “post rock + math rock + jazz”, but his explanation for “forecasting cells” has more science to it. I’m no theory expert, so the originality of the method isn’t for me to decide, but he essentially leaves much of his work open to interpretation by the player, simply giving them the harmonic components he would like their playing to end with. In this way, Scott hopes his players will constantly question and manipulate the goal on their propulsive journey toward it.
It’s the same technique he fostered into the jazz discussion with Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, and while its value as a stage for endlessly enjoyable music is still on display here, there are plenty of moments across the nearly two hours of music contained on these two discs that merely feel like variations on what Scott’s done before. Perhaps this speaks to the confidence of his quintet, but depending on your ear for Scott’s clearly defined sound you may find yourself, much like jazz traditionalists, wishing they would drop some of the more melodramatic elements of the guitar and piano playing and simply make a combustible little jazz album.
Politics weigh heavy on the two records: “Who They Wish I Was” is Scott musing on his comparisons to Miles Davis, “Berlin Patient (CCR5)” interprets the San Franciscan AIDS survivor who was cured in Germany, “When Marissa Stands Her Ground” was initially titled “Trayvon” after the ongoing scandalous Florida murder trial. “Fatima Aisha Rokero 400” carries the darkest intentions of them all, however, attempting a musical dialogue between the players on the Janjaweed soldiers’ ethnic cleansing and rape of 400 Sudanese women in Rokero.
Even in hope, Scott can’t help but feel slightly somber. “Kiel”, an ode to his brother, is bright in the most muted of ways, an after midnight brand of happiness and pride that seems unsure of bombasity (“New New Orleans Stomp” is one of the few records to avoid this, showcasing this quintet in a much more exuberant tone than ever before) or bravado. While undeniably beautiful music, like most double discs it’s a listening experience that suffers from dilution of the product. Even if you believe all or most of the tracks are gorgeous, as I can be persuaded to feel in the right setting, at some point it’s impossible to avoid wondering which disc you’ll be keeping in the car for a while and which will receive an extended stay in the jewel case.
And of course that’s always the argument, that one is never expected to listen to both discs at once as much as be grateful they came in the same package. And it’s truly exciting that this much Christian Scott music might drop into one’s lap at once. His tone is gorgeous, and Jamire Williams is a tenacious drummer. Christian aTunde Adjuah unfortunately feels like it plays the same hand a few too many times; for all its talk of musical gambles and progressive thinking, the album surprises most by ultimately playing things a little too close to the vest.