Christian Scott: Breaking Boundaries, Crossing Lines
Almost exactly a year since the Moscow gigs, Scott is in London for the launch of Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord, 2010), his first studio album since that dramatic sophomore release. His stock has risen. A month trawling the roads of Europe is underway. Two sell-out concerts at Ronnie Scott's club are talk of the town; a constant stream of interviews, from blogs and the BBC to national newspapers, is on the agenda.
"This album is a totally different animal," says an understandably tired Scott in the bar of his hotel. "I'm waiting to see how it will be received because this is nothing like what came before." But he seems far from concerned at this apparently radical deviation from a successful recipe: "I'm not worried, I think when people hear itwhether or not they conclude they like itthey'll have to at least say 'this is not some shit I've heard before.' And I think it will take more time for people to come to conclusions about how they really feel about it."
The CD was recorded over four days under the attentive ear of legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder, now in his 80s, who came out of retirement especially for the project. Mixing took "ten times as long," according to Scott, who was writing the music "all day and every day, for nearly three-and-a-half years." He adds that his current sidemenMatthew Stevens (guitar), Milton Fletcher (piano), Kristopher Funn (bass) and Jamire Williams (drums)are a group he's been trying to assemble for the last four years.
Conceptually, his vision is clear. "I wanted to create an album that sounded like a hybrid between the way we play nowhow we incorporate and blend ideas and textures from this generationand couple it with the type of depth musicians played with in the '60s. And to marry not just sounds and palettes from this era, but also from that one, to have two different time periods together in the music, so it's more dense."
Dense it is. Scott's trademark ostinatos remain intact, but his new band sounds more unhinged than any of the others. Yet there is control. The first track, "K.K.P.D.," is propelled by waves of frenetic beats from Williams, a source of endless energy at the kit. The quintet follows a recent jazz trend of Radiohead covers with "The Eraser," before intermittently mellowing out and turning up the heat over eight more originals, all but one penned by Scott. He duels with Stevens' alternately luminescent or gritty guitar on several cuts, while Fletcher and Funn provide a shimmering, shifting backdrop. Traces of both Rewind That and Anthem are certainly detectable, but Yesterday You Said Tomorrow represents the next stage of evolution, a powerful, expressive document on the current phase of Scott's artistic growth.
"It sounds like what I hear in my head, which is fucked up," states the trumpeter, with a faint tone of surprise. "It's weird because every album I do I feel like I'm getting closer to that sound. You always hear musicians talk about the fact it never sounds like how it is in their head. It's the only album I've made that I can really listen to. I can listen all day, every day, and I always find something I can hold onto that I didn't notice before. It's incredible. And I made the motherfucker!"
Despite obvious satisfaction at how things are going, certain issues are starting to bother Scott in the midst of his small media circus. "I can tell you what I'm sick of being asked about: I'm not terribly concerned with people doing the whole Miles Davis thing. I couldn't care less about that. Man, Miles Davis is dead. Leave that shit alone. If Miles was here, he wouldn't be thinking about me doing what I'm doinghe'd be like 'man, fuck that dude, Christian Scott can kiss my ass.' And I'd be telling him the same shit back. Yeah. He was known for being a bit of a jerk."
A 2009 tour with Marcus Miller, recreating Davis' classic album Tutu (Warner Bros, 1986), could have done Scott more harm than good in this respect. While in one sense there is no greater compliment, it's easy to see why his relentlessly progressive mindset spares no time for raising ghosts of the past.
Scott also reacts negatively to the frequent assumption that his music contains a political element. "I don't think I'm political, I just speak about my experiences. It's weird. I come all the way over here and people think they know me and understand what I'm talking about. You may be able to fathom it to a certain extent, but unless you've been in 100-degree weather picking cotton or cutting down sugar cane, as far as I'm concerned, you can shut the fuck up about it. That's how I feel about those types of things."
This kind of bold, confident statement has set Christian Scott apart from the day he signed the Concord contract. His emerging position as a leading figure in 21st-century jazz music looks more assured with every release, but he is the first to put things in perspective: "There's been all this hoop-la made about the palette we've been working on," he said in Moscow. "People have been calling me one of the main architects of a new sound of jazz. But I don't see it that way, because all the things I hear relate to stuff I heard before.
"I've had the experience of being around a lot of older musicians. I learned all these different styles and all the old guys said 'amen to what you're doing, if you have a vision.' So I've never bought into 'this is what it is, and if it's not that, then it's wrong,' because most of the older musicians don't feel like that, they just create. I'm not buying into trying to please people, worrying they won't like my music."
Zipping back to the London interview, Scott states that the title Yesterday You Said Tomorrow reflects a palpable sense of urgency throughout the new record. "When you listen to the document," he explains, "it's obvious you're listening to a group of young people who are intent on some type of change."
Scott and his quintet are on a mission to change the way people think about jazz. With an accessible persona, explosive yet thoughtful tirades against a rotten establishment, a democratic message of musical equality, and subtly crafted, thoroughly contemporary and fresh-sounding compositions, he has all the tools to do just that.
Mr. Marsalis, you'd better watch out.
Christian Scott, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord Jazz, 2010)
Christian Scott, Live at Newport (Concord Jazz, 2008)
Christian Scott, Anthem (Concord Records, 2007)
Christian Scott, Rewind That (Concord Records, 2006)
Donald Harrison, Real Life Stories (Nagel Hyer, 2002)
Donald Harrison, Kind of New (Candid, 2002)