Drummer and composer Kendrick Scott kicked off his Blue Note contract four years ago with We Are the Drum. Expertly produced by Derrick Hodge, Scott’s creative confidant and musical brother, and featuring a stunning guest performance by vocalist Lizz Wright, it earned rave reviews and reiterated how Oracle, Scott’s long-running working group, is one of the most thoughtfully powerful jazz bands of its generation.
When it came time to follow this success up with a new effort, however, Scott felt stuck. Nothing he wrote or played seemed good enough; self-doubt had formed a blockade where inspiration once flowed. But, as Scott points out today, “Wayne Shorter says there’s always something unfolding on the other side of the negative.” Hodge, who’d signed on again as Scott’s producer, witnessed what the drummer was putting himself through and had a similar realization. For years Hodge has been dedicated to shaping Oracle’s sonic identity, even relinquishing his role as the band’s bassist to work behind the scenes. Scott calls him “the sixth member of Oracle.”
“Derrick said, ‘We need to tap into your fears and insecurities and make some art about them,’” Scott recalls. “That was amazing to me—that he got me out of my own head.” Scott gathered up the compositions he’d been working on—both finished and unfinished—and headed into the studio, where “Derrick and the band helped me unfold them, and they became the record that you hear.”
That gorgeous new Blue Note album from Scott and Oracle is called, not incidentally, A Wall Becomes A Bridge. And the implications of that title aren’t exclusive to Scott’s artistic breakthrough. “A Wall is a provocation,” Scott says, adding that he “loves to create things for conversation. So I also wanted the idea to speak about a certain president.” Many of us would argue that 45 is all wall and no bridge, but Scott sees a silver lining in this increasingly absurd political age. “With all of these different issues coming to the forefront, we can now say, ‘Things like systemic racism still exist and we need to deal with them.’ More people are paying attention to the government, and that level of intensity is what we need—as is that level of intent in how we vote and how we live and how we treat others. All of those things are a bridge.”
An even more essential part of why this 12-track song cycle is so affecting lies in its ability to be interpreted. A musical and metaphorical journey in reverse, it arrives with a bridge and voyages back toward its beginning as a wall. Along the way, a gamut of themes is explored, including innocence (“Archangel”), acceptance (“Windows”), fear and insecurity (“Voices”) and resistance (“Plēh”—or help spelled backwards). “I want listeners’ imaginations to run wild,” Scott explains. “I want them to think about, ‘What does this mean to me and my community? What does it mean to our country and the world at large?’”