Music

Christian Scott: Anthem

A modern kind of emo-fusion from a young trumpeter -- and not at all a bad thing.


Christian Scott

Anthem

Contributors: Christian Scott, Matthew Stevens, Aaron Parks
Label: Concord
US Release Date: 2007-08-28
UK Release Date: 2007-08-27
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It seems like a legitimate idea to combine jazz with hip-hop, and there is a significant group of musicians working toward that end. (Check out pianist Robert Glasper's outstanding In My Element.) Then why not also bring into jazz elements of today's other hip sound, indie-rock? This is not common, likely because indie-rock is constitutionally against the kind of virtuosity and complexity that jazz musicians exude. The indie scene typically values texture over harmony, simplicity or even primitivism over sophistication. There are countless exceptions, but this is at least one core reason why Branford Marsalis is unlikely to guest on an Iron & Wine album or why jazz musicians don't often cover Arcade Fire songs.

Christian Scott, a 22 year-old New Orleans trumpeter has given it a bit of a go on his second album. Perhaps inevitably, it is a partial failure -- particularly as it aspires to incorporate a share of hip-hop as well as rock. But it is also a partial success. Half-empty or half-full? Perhaps you should decide.

Anthem is dark-toned. This is no surprise, given that it was written and performed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the government to sufficiently rescue Scott's hometown. The textures are big: fat rock drums, crunching guitars, spacious piano sound, and a Miles Davis-tinged middle register trumpet that crackles with jazz but seems equally likely to brood like a good indie-rocker should. There are passages that play like jazz ("Remains District" and "Katrina Eyes", both minor melodies given a snap of backbeat) and others that jump with a groove ("Re:"). There is also a final reprise of the title track that is given a spoken word overlay that brings home the music's political themes on a hip-hop tip. Much of the music is despairing, and understandably so.

The most typical tunes feature prominently the guitar of Matt Stevens and keyboards from Aaron Parks, also both young and talented musicians. Stevens sounds like a rock guitarist on most tunes, scruffing up the atmosphere with plenty of tone. Parks takes the disc's most adventurous solos (making, by the way, his second appearance on a scathing reflection on Katrina, the other being Terence Blanchard's recent recording). Stevens and Parks are given the role of making the tunes' Big Gestures: pounding and repeated octaves on piano ("Anthem (Antediluvian Adaptation)"), a Fender Rhodes bass line ("Cease Fire"), distorted shards of arpeggio ("Dialect"), or crunching rock chords ("Void"). Scott rides above the storm of sound that comes from his rhythm team (also featuring Marcus Gilmore on drums and two bass players), playing trumpet that is usually open and floating and often harmonized by tenor player Walter Smith III. This is the formula that gives Anthem its indie-rock cred: loud backgrounds on which are placed intense whispers of voice. It's emo-jazz, you might say.

The downside of this blend is a certain sameness on the material that is more explicitly jazz. "The 9" is a hard bop groove set to Gilmore's snap-sharp snare attack, and "Remains District" vibes much the same way. "Cease Fire" has a cool groove, but the melody as stated by Scott and his sax player seems as anonymous as any bluesy set of licks can be. When Scott solos on this tune, he squeezes out attractive sounds, but are they really much different or more profound than what, say, Chris Botti gives you on his smooth jazz sides?

And that is the more problematic element of this music. Indie-rock can be folkily pretty but it achieves this with its Dylanesque edges intact. Scott, with his liquid tone, cannot escape sounding a little too much like Jazz Lite, despite his serious intent. "Like That" sits atop a lush bed of Rhodes and lightly strummed guitar, with a pocket backbeat as clean and neat as anything this side of Chuck Mangione. It's pretty but in the easy way that doilies and little girls and poodle puppies are pretty. Anthem has many more distinctive sounds to offer and one tune should not make it all seem like mush, but "Like That" is a reminder to the listener that much of what makes Anthem distinctive along the way is the distinctive production work rather than the substance of Christian Scott's own composing and trumpet-playing contribution.

If this "emo-jazz" represents his conception of how a jazz group can sound today, we might be eager to hear the sound developed and raised to the next level. I think you will like the sound of most of the disc -- its edge and mournful punch -- but you will also wish that the tunes built to grander, freer, more interactive climaxes. This young man was just 22 when he made Anthem, so perhaps its wrong to expect him to have the fire and improvisatory guts of Sonny Rollins or even Chris Potter. But even on the best tunes here (such as the throbbing opener "Litany Against Fear"), he is outplayed by his bandmates Stevens and Parks.

Christian Scott has time to work out his art, and Anthem is a step in an interesting direction. May he develop his own harder, rougher edge so that, down the line, some indie-rock or hip-hop act wants to sound more like him.

6

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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