Compositions and Improvisations: Christian Scott, Anthem

By Daniel Garrett

Christian Scott, Anthem
Produced by Chris Dunn and Christian Scott
Executive Producer: Ivory Daniel
Concord Music Group, 2007

There is always music that sounds like other music and simply takes its place in an ongoing chain, and then there is music that enters the world offering a difference that changes our perceptions and our pleasures; and I have thought that among the more intriguing works of recent times are Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Red Earth, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds’s Playlist, Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, and Meshell Ndegeocello’s The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams; and Christian Scott’s Anthem could be added to such charming though challenging company. Christian Scott wrote most of the songs that appear in the collection and plays several instruments as well (including cornet, trumpet, flugelhorn, and trombone), easily announcing that he is a significant presence. Will that presence become a force?

Christian Scott’s muted cornet articulates a noirish sound against the pulsating rhythm of Aaron Parks’s piano and Marcus Gilmore’s drums in “Litany Against Fear,” a piece with a shift in arrangement that allows both fast somewhat bluesy notes and long meditative notes on trumpet, also supported by guitar and bass. There is a nearly classical beauty in “Void,” with the cornet and saxophone offering the fine detail one expects of jazz and the drums a softened rock rhythm; and although a definite atmosphere is created, one senses in it questioning, not emptiness, making the title not entirely accurate. Multiple tones and tempos, with little cascades of sound, mark the song “Anthem.” Scott’s trumpet seems to sing with the melodicism of a saxophone before taking off for higher, sharper terrain in “Re:” and there is a martial rhythm in “Cease Fire,” in which Scott plays flugelhorn, with Aaron Parks on synth bass and Fender Rhodes, and Louis Fouche on alto saxophone. When Fouche follows Scott, the playing seems a deepening of an idea and musical statement, a continuation, rather than complement or contrast; and their music is billowing, full, sensuous. If this is merely a cease fire, then certainly a petition for peace should be issued.

There is a busy arrangement and somewhat cloudy sound, though the rhythm is hard, in “Dialect,” and I am not entirely sure in what genre the piece fits into. It is a different sound from “Remains Distant,” which I like for its lack of conflict, conflict being so often, too often, a theme in art. (Scott is on soprano trombone and Walter Smith is on tenor saxophone.) Then, with appealing repeated measures at its beginning and end, and something of a cacophony at its center, is Aaron Parks’s “The Uprising,” followed by “Katrina’s Eyes,” which is not the blues lament one might expect but something with a mellow melody and haunting harmony. The movement between one mood and another is a calculated choice, and prevents boredom—but it means also that one is not as overwhelmed by the sensuality of the music as one could be, if certain pieces were played one after the other.

There is a skittish rhythm in “The 9,” written by Scott with Louis Fouche, and something of the sound speaks of today, while “Like That” is late night music, and a version of “Anthem,” co-written by Jason Hunter, features the rowdy rap of Brother J of X-Clan. With that, the greatly promising Christian Scott has declared himself a jazzman of our time. Will he become a musician for all times?

Daniel Garrett has been a longtime resident of New York, and his work has appeared in, or been featured by, The African,, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, The Compulsive Reader, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen,, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option,, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today. “The history of African-American instrumental, improvised, and sung music is immense, and there are so very many good musicians past and present that it is easy to feel guilty about what one has not heard, studied, or celebrated” says Garrett, adding, “From Duke Ellington’s work with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, to various works by Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor, to David Murray’s Sacred Ground featuring work with Cassandra Wilson, and Wynton Marsalis’s From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, there is much to be discovered and discussed.”