One of the great privileges of being a music critic is after listening to tons of average, go-for-the-chord-changes-and-try-not-to-make-a-mistake, recordings, occasionally a CD comes along that makes a singularly accomplished artistic statement. Such is the case with trumpeter-cornetist-flugelhornist-composer Christian Scott’s new CD, Anthem.
22 year-old New Orleans native Scott, a graduate of the Berkeley College of Music, had early experiences studying at the famous New Orleans Center For The Creative Arts (NOCCA), high school of both Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard, along with playing gigs with his uncle, the great alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. This is Scott’s second Concord Records release; Rewind That, reached number 15 on Billboard magazine’s Top Jazz Albums chart. In addition to jazz, Scott has also brought his musical vision to work with rap and R&B artists like Mos Def, Jill Scott and X-Clan.
The most remarkable aspect to this recording is the highly introspective and communicative nature of the music. While the recording, in Scott’s words, "started off as a social-political album.... I wanted the Anthem to be for, or represent, people who were disenfranchised in any way," it must ultimately stand on its musical merits and to this end it does so in marvelous fashion.
Anthem is so far beyond the pale of most recordings and so personal a statement it’s hard to believe it wasn’t released on ECM; a company known for allowing musicians to get inside the musical heart of the music and their fellow musicians in order to serve art first and sales second. That Concord released this album speaks volumes of how important a company they’ve become in terms of providing the public with serious music.
"Katrina’s Eyes" is an excellent example of this. Scott, and saxophonists Walter Smith and Louis Fouche, perform plaintively simple lines that develop in their own time. Not hurried by a pressing rhythm section, the work is reminiscent of Wayne Shorter’s work with Miles Davis - particularly "Pinocchio" and "Nefertiti" - not so much in the form of homage, but in terms of setting out a mood and allowing the musicians to get inside of it. Scott’s improvised solo works within the context of the emotion and aims to reflect rather than illuminate, serve rather than be served. Very classy.
"Like That," with Aaron Parks’ beautifully layered Fender Rhodes playing and drummer Marcus Gilmore’s quasi-Second Line drumming, gives Scott space to create a solo that is both genuinely touching and earnestly heartfelt. In the hands of lesser musicians this piece might have deteriorated into a jam fest. Scott and his cohorts keep the music’s eyes appropriately focused and perform with such maturity you’d swear these musicians were at least twice their age.
Scott’s technical ability and chops are not neglected. His post-bop proclivities are on full display on "The 9," and his clean tone and pure lines on "Re:" and "Anthem (Post Diluvial Adaptation)." As a composer this recording may one day be pointed to as when Scott began to put his ideas together into fully formed musical statements. While only time will tell, this recording sets out the ground rules, and they will be tough for others to follow.