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Live Reviews

Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2008: Days 9-11

By Published: July 8, 2008
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July 4: Christian Scott Sextet

Christian Scott has accomplished much in a relatively short time. Only 25, the New Orleans born and raised trumpeter who received his first instrument at the age of twelve spent less time than usual in the service of others, including Donald Harrison and Nnenna Freelon, before releasing his first album as a leader, and on a major jazz label to boot. The impressive Rewind That (Concord, 2006) was nominated for a Grammy and, while it didn't win, was an impressive notch for someone who'd paid—at least based on his recorded output up to that time—very little in the way of dues.

Christian Scott Sextet Anthem (Concord, 2007) built on the successes of its predecessor—a hard-hitting approach that managed to approach a number of contemporary markers including a hint of alt-rock attitude, pop song sensibility and a surprisingly hard- hitting and turbulent group aesthetic to collectively expanding some very impressive writing. Live, Scott's sextet, which included guitarist/musical director Matt Stevens (who's appeared on both of Scott's releases), saxophonist Louis Fouché, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders and powerhouse drummer Jamire Williams, delivered a late night performance at Gesú that was one of the most flat-out exciting shows of the festival.

With material culled largely from Rewind That and Anthem, Scott began the set without Fouché, (other than two new tunes and a radical reworking of McCoy Tyner's "Contemplation," from his 1967 Blue Note classic, The Real McCoy) delivering a one-two punch of "Litany Against Fear" and "Dying in Love," two songs with a story but, even without it, which hit the audience hard, making it clear that, as powerful as the group is on disc, live it's another beast entirely. While there are some heavy hitters on Scott's discs—drummer Marcus Gilmore, rising star bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist Aaron Parks, whose upcoming Blue Note debut is destined to rattle plenty of cages—in many ways his touring group was better. The chemistry was stronger, the energy level higher, and there was the kind of collaborative commitment that took the pop-like "Katrina's Eyes" to another level.

The entire group was impressive. Scott's ability to make his one horn sound, at times, like a flugelhorn with a warmer, more rounded tone and, at other times, brasher and more sharply trumpet-like through embouchure alone was impressive, but only a means to a very musical end. All too-often young players are over-excited (and, based on Scott's introduction of the band, he was clearly pumped from the audience's enthusiastic reception), but Scott demonstrated remarkable restraint. He was easily capable of stratospheric reaches and lithe, rapid-fire lines, but rather than relying on those devices, he remained true to the melodic core of his repertoire, bringing out the big guns when appropriate and, again, as nothing more than a means to an end that involved creating solos with focus and construction.

Fouché and Clayton—who has his own debut coming out on ArtistShare this fall—were equally strong soloists, with Clayton also a fine supporting player, more like a conversational equal than accompanist, as he pushed and pulled, making Scott's music even more malleable. Stevens, the only constant here with Scott's two discs, is another young player with plenty of potential. His growth since Anthem is unmistakable—the Scofield/Frisell/McLaughlin influences remain, but have become more fully subsumed into a personal voice that begs for a solo release of his own.

Festival International de Jazz de Montreal / Christian Scott Sextet l:r: Gerald Clayton, Christian Scott, Joe Sanders, Jamire Williams, Matt Stevens

Highlights of a group filled with high water marks were Sanders and Williams, who managed to keep a simmering turbulence beneath the entire set that occasionally erupted into controlled chaos. Form was never far away, but Williams in particular stretched the pulse in so many ways that when he finally returned to a more definitive pulse, the sense of relief was palpable. He incorporated acoustic emulations of dubbing in his playing and, with a kit sound defined by a sharp snare; his solos were powerful without ever approaching excess.

The audience' standing ovation was no surprise—this is, after all, Montreal and its audiences are renowned as some of the most enthusiastic in the world—but it appeared that even Scott, whose between song patter was both informative (the genesis of "Litany Against Fear" and "Dying in Love" both tragic and moving) and energizing. A good thing, because when Scott stopped talking and began to play there was relentlessness to the music that transcended mere excitement. The Christian Scott Sextet may play with the bold enthusiasm of youth, but it also plays with a maturity sometimes hard to find in artists twice its age. Everyone in the group has the potential to become more visible names and, based on the group's Montreal performance, and its selling out of every CD brought to the venue, clearly its audience think so too.

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