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Christian Scott Quintet, Live at the Saville Theater, San Diego, CA

Robert Bush By

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Christian Scott Quintet
Saville Theater (San Diego City College)
San Diego, CA
April 13, 2010

I believe it was the English writer/contrarian George Bernard Shaw who first coined the phrase: "Youth is wasted on the young." Anybody buying into that cliché was soon set straight—provided they were fortunate enough to be among the standing-room-only-crowd who witnessed this performance. Twenty seven year old trumpeter Christian Scott last appeared in San Diego as a guest of McCoy Tyner, and has already graced the cover of Downbeat magazine. I believe the McCoy invitation probably speaks louder than the Downbeat cover, but both are impressive at his age. Speaking of age, with Scott it's kind of deceptive, because he began an apprenticeship under his uncle—famed New Orleans Alto master Donald Harrison at the tender age of 12. By the time he was fourteen he was performing with Harrison regularly. He graduated from Berklee with a double major in record time.

So, this "kid" is no slouch. He is currently on tour in support of this latest release, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord, 2010). Already being heralded by many critics as one of the best recordings of the year, this disc features the same working ensemble that performed on Tuesday night. Scott has carefully assembled a quintet of the some of the best young talent from all over North America. As Mr. Scott expressed after the concert, "Nobody thinks about putting a band together anymore." Having that band chemistry is clearly important to the leader—he chose each member of his quintet very deliberately. The result is quite convincing—this band is tight.

It's relatively unusual to have a frontline of trumpet and guitar, but in Canadian guitarist Matt Stevens, Scott has found a perfect foil. Stevens' clear tone and liquid lines as well as tasteful use of effects brought John Abercrombie to mind (Although Stevens himself disavowed that influence.) Pianist Milton Fletcher, who hails from Seaside California, began playing the instrument when he was four. By the age of ten he was gaining acclaim in the Monterey Jazz Festival's education program. He too, was a star at the Berklee College of Music. His style is full of classical and gospel references. This is a player to watch. Double bassist Kristopher Funn is from Baltimore, Maryland, and spent four years with Kenny Garrett. His role was clearly to act as an anchor for the others. One of the only disappointments of this concert was not getting to hear him take a solo. Finally, from Houston, Texas—drummer Jamire Williams, who's c.v. includes work with Dr. Lonnie Smith. Playing an unusual drum kit with two snare drums, Mr. Williams was a dynamo, in constant motion the entire night.

The concert began with an ethereal original from the new release, "A Never Ending Repentance" which featured a nice long Scott solo—using his much hyped whisper technique: a method of blowing warm air into the trumpet in order to achieve a more vocal sound. Hype or not, Mr. Scott has achieved his own distinctive timbre on his instrument. Style wise, he most resembled a young Woody Shaw. Matt Stevens followed with a melodic, floating solo that contrasted nicely with the leader's more fiery exposition. Next up was a startling take on the Herbie Hancock original, "Eye Of The Hurricane." This is an inherently exciting tune, and the Scott Quintet didn't disappoint with their rendition. As on many of the evenings selections, Jamire Williams propelled the soloists to a more explosive aesthetic with his constant percussive onslaughts. In that respect, he seemed to have more than a little Tony Williams in him—and that's quite a comparison.

Trumpeter Scott gets quite physically demonstrative when he's improvising—he twists and turns, he'll go from a deep crouch—to standing straight up on the balls of his feet—head back blowing into the rafters all in one solo! When he's done, he stands right in the middle of his compatriots—shouting, "Go motherfucker!" to whoever's got the baton at that moment. It was a great thing to see such enthusiasm from the man. They followed the Hancock piece with "The Eraser" by Radiohead.

Scott then told the story of being pulled over by the New Orleans Police—offense: being a black youth driving a nice new car. One thing led to another which culminated in having a gun put to his head. Naturally, he wrote a song about the experience: "K.K.P.D.," which stands for Ku Klux Police Department. Playing the difficult piece seemed to exorcise the demons of that experience somewhat, as he followed with a pensive ballad dedicated to his woman, "Isadora." You get the feeling that she must be drop-dead-gorgeous. After the ballad, Scott introduced each member of his ensemble with obvious respect and affection. It was quite unlike the typical jazz leader introducing his side-men routine that we've all heard a million times. He spent about two minutes on each musician— taking care to mention their individual home towns, who they played with—how he came to meet them, and how he cajoled each one into joining the quintet. Scott went to the microphone one last time to announce the final composition of the evening—"Angola, Louisiana, & The Thirteenth Amendment."

Christian Scott should not be viewed through the same lens as so many of the "young lions" who have come and gone over the last twenty years. Unlike so many of those handsome young men in the Armani suits who play endless variations of the hard-bop aesthetic—Mr. Scott has his own concept going on. All due respect to George Bernard Shaw, youth has not been wasted on this young man.


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