Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah lit up the Blue Note (review)
When Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah plays the trumpet, it goes straight to your heart, or your bones, or wherever you feel the most intense feelings. Even without words, it feels like he's talking to you, trying with all the power in his lungs to produce the notes that will say the very thing he's feeling at that moment, and it works. This came across again and again at NYC's Blue Note Jazz Club last night (2/7), the penultimate night of his residency at the venue, which he wraps up tonight before heading to LA for the Grammys, where his 2017 album The Emancipation Procrastination is up for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. Decked out in a vivid tapestry shawl and thick gold jewelry that matched his gleaming trumpet, he looked like some kind of spiritual leader and he held the audience captivated like one too. Each note he played soared through the venue, cutting through even the most manic arrangements that his fantastic band played. There's just something about his style that you can't take your ear off of once he starts playing.
And Christian Scott's not just a great player; he's a visionary too. He clearly studied and respects the long history of jazz music -- when he introduced his alto sax player Logan Richardson as coming from a lineage of Kansas City sax players, and was met with minimal applause when he explained he was referring to the influence of Charlie Parker, he joked "we're gonna have to have Jazz 101 in here" -- but with his own music, Christian Scott looks to the future. He sort of approaches jazz the way Radiohead (whose "Videotape" he covered on The Emancipation Procrastination and whose Thom Yorke he has jammed with) approaches rock. The history is there, but it's such a drastic departure from the genre's tradition, that it feels as new and exciting as the greats who influenced them. The Emancipation Procrastination was part of a trilogy of albums that saw Christian Scott adding a trip-hop influence into his work, and his just-announced album Ancestral Recall sees him going in an entirely different direction. As the recently released title track and the music he performed last night hinted, this album is more percussion heavy, with rhythms coming from Africa, his hometown of New Orleans, and more. He talked about the influence his percussionist Weedie Braimah -- who played djembe and other traditional hand drums last night -- had on the album, and it was a thrill to watch Christian and his band take those traditional rhythms and toy with them, combining them with samples, electronic drum pads, and harder-hitting jazz drums. Sound manipulation is often a theme of Christian Scott's work. He and his band mostly played acoustic instruments, but he'd often run his horns through a mic with psychedelic sound effects, or his pianist Lawrence Fields would shake things up with a cacophonous sample from his laptop.
Christian, the natural leader that he is, also spoke on stage about learning to take a step back and share the spotlight with others, which he said he learned from his frequent collaborator and flute player Elena Pinderhughes. He told a story of the first time they performed together, when Christian was about to take a solo during an emotional portion of his set where he never lets anyone else play, but that Elena chimed in with her flute, and he couldn't believe the music he was hearing and the feelings he was feeling. Elena took a solo last night (as she does on a few of his previous albums, and on the upcoming Ancestral Recall), and it was easy to hear why Christian felt the way he did. And regarding his newer-found look on sharing the spotlight, he wasn't all talk. As much as he stole the show, he spent almost as much time not playing at all and just getting lost in the sound of the music his band (rounded out by bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Corey Fonville) were making. You could see in his face that he was genuinely blown away by them in that very moment.
Christian Scott's residency wraps up tonight (2/8) with 8 PM and 10:30 PM shows (tables are sold out, but you can still reserve bar seats), and Ancestral Recall comes out March 22 via Ropeadope/Stretch Music. You can stream the title track (featuring Saul Williams) and watch a video from one of Christian Scott's Blue Note shows earlier this week below.