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Christian Scott

Yesterday You Said Tomorrow


by Ian Mann

February 17, 2010


This young trumpeter is an exciting new voice on the international jazz scene and one with plenty of important things to say

The brilliant young trumpeter Christian Scott made quite an impression when he played two nights at Ronnie Scott’s recently. Scott was in London for the UK launch of “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” his fourth album release for the Concord label. Since Scott, now 26, burst on to the scene in 2006 with his Grammy nominated début “Rewind That” he has he has been in highly creative mode with “Anthem” following in 2007 and the double set “Live At Newport” in 2008.

Scott comes from a long line of fine New Orleans trumpeters and has a thorough knowledge of his jazz lineage dating all the way back to Buddy Bolden. However he has less respect for one of his more recent antecedents having publicly spoken out against the conservatism of Wynton Marsalis. Scott is a highly political animal and post Katrina he has had plenty to be angry about. The new album evokes the spirit of sixties militancy whilst sounding thoroughly contemporary. Scott describes his music as being the sound of “the classic John Coltrane quartet played by an Indie band” and it’s a pretty good summation. “Yesterday…” draws not only on the spirit of influential 60’s jazz figures like Coltrane, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus but also on the attitudes articulated by Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. The album is engineered by the veteran Rudy Van Gelder, now 85 and a living link to those heady days but this is no nostalgia trip, “Yesterday..” is about now and sounds like now. Despite the sixties references Scott also draws on contemporary rock and hip hop influences. The album’s only cover is a version of Radiohead’s “The Eraser”.

Scott doesn’t sing but his innovative “whispering” technique on the trumpet allows him to achieve a remarkable proximity to the timbres of the human voice. Some of his tunes have politically loaded titles such as “K.K.P.D”, “Jenacide”, “The American’t” and “Angola, LA & The 13th Amendment”. These are essentially protest songs without words but there’s more to the album than just righteous anger. Scott is a capable ballad player exhibiting a kind of tough tenderness that draws on Miles Davis’ “less is more approach”.

Joining Scott on this album are a highly capable young band consisting of Matthew Stevens (guitar), Milton Fletcher Jr. (piano), Kristopher Keith Funn (bass) and the extraordinary drummer Jamire Williams. They hit the ground running with the incendiary “K.K.P.D” (Ku Klux Police Department if you hadn’t already guessed), Scott’s statement on the “phenomenally dark and evil” attitude of the local police to the Afro American citizens of New Orleans. Musically it begins with Stevens’ ominous guitar chording and Williams’ energetic drumming. We hear Scott’s trumpet whisper for the first time, rising to a howl of protest as the music unfolds above Williams’ polyrhythmic storm. It’s an extraordinary drumming performance and must be quite astonishing when witnessed live.

The Radiohead tune “The Eraser” actually comes as something of a pause for breath after the sound and fury of the opener. Scott whispers above the contemporary hip hop inspired grooves laid down by Williams, Funn and Fletcher. Despite his Afro American lineage Scott’s breathy technique sometimes reminds me of European players like Nils Petter Molvaer or Arve Henriksen.

“After All” combines a kind of abstract balladry with the insistent rhythmic grooves of Williams and Funn. It’s the kind of piece that’s consistently unfolding and there are strong contributions from both Scott and Fletcher with the pianist making his most significant contribution thus far.

“Isadora” is a genuine ballad, lush and luxuriant with Scott showing the tender side of his playing in eloquent, Milesian fashion. Fletcher’s piano is a perfect lyrical foil and Williams provides subtle but colourful punctuation.

The political agenda is back for the angry “Angola, LA & The 13th Amendment” which draws comparisons between slavery and the current American prison system. Scott’s trumpet broods then soars and Williams delivers another mesmerising performance. Elsewhere Stevens’ guitar crosses the jazz guitar tradition with something more urgent and rock influenced.

On the surface “The Last Broken Heart” is another winning ballad with Scott’s “whisper” technique   making him sound at his most human and vulnerable. Stevens shows up well too with a thoughtful solo. However even this beautiful piece has a political subtext, having been inspired by the gay marriage debate.

The simmering “Jenacide” is given a considerable rhythmic punch by Williams’ powerful drum grooves which in turn frame smouldering solos from Scott and Stevens. At times it sounds rather like New York bassist Ben Allison’s band with trumpeter Ron Horton and guitarist Steve Cardenas. Interestingly Allison is something of a political activist too.

“The American’t” is a musical voicing of Scott’s disappointment in the lack of real change achieved in the wake of President Obama’s historic election. The lyricism of Scott’s trumpet playing contrasts with the energy of the busy rhythms bubbling beneath.

“An Unending Repentance” begins as a brooding melancholic minor key lament, heavy on atmosphere and powerfully moving in it’s own way. Stevens’ guitar ruminations vie for excellence with the leader’s mournful trumpet and Fletcher’s expansive piano as the piece unfolds into something more free-wheeling and urgent. The tune ends with a sombre coda, laden with gravitas.

The closing “The Roe Effect” subtitled “Refrain In F# Minor” is almost skeletal with Scott’s trumpet whispering above Stevens’ solid, folk derived guitar chording. It’s beautiful in it’s starkness and simplicity and makes a good contrast with the complexity of much of the rest of the album.   

“Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” is an extraordinary record. Urgent and politically eloquent it also contains moments of real beauty. The standard of the playing is consistently high throughout and the contributions of Scott and Williams are little short of astonishing.

Christian Scott is an exciting new voice on the international jazz scene and a voice with plenty of important things to say. I’m sorry to have missed him at Ronnie’s but if he returns to the UK I’ve got him marked down as a “must see.”

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