Jazz without borders

by Ryan Snyder

‘ | Follow me on Twitter @YESRyan

Season 2, Episode 1 of “Treme,” David Simon’s underappreciated Valentine to the city of New Orleans: Crescent City ex-pat Delmond Lambreaux (played by Rob Brown) performs on a New York City stage before a enamored audience. He had recently left New Orleans as a means of finding his own voice underneath considerable talents tempered in the greatest cultural crucible in the world. The show’s obsession with authenticity demands that the narrative include regular, legitimizing cameos from important New Orleans musical figures, and in this instance, the insertion of trumpeter Christian Scott as Lambreaux’s gigging partner was a direct mirror of the character’s search for his own identity.

Only it was the other way around. Scott is Lambreaux within the logic of the “Treme” universe, but the reality is that Lambreaux is Scott, or at least a hybrid of him and his famous uncle, jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. Delmond’s father, Albert Lambreaux (played by Clark Peters), is an amalgamation of his uncle and his grandfather, Donald Harrison, Sr., the founding Big Chief of Mardi Gras Indian tribe the Guardians of the Flames and a key contributor to Scott’s pedagogy of tenacious artistic dissatisfaction. Listening to John Coltrane was an everyday practice for Scott, and Scott heard from an early age what progress sounded like.

“Even when I was small, ‘Syeeda’s Song Flute’ or ‘Moment’s Notice’ or Blue Train, any of those records would be on. When I started to play music, they made me think about how I actually felt about my environment and the things going on in my life, the connections became even greater because you could always hear growth in his playing. He was always aspiring to be better than he was the day before.”

When Scott performs at this Saturday’s John Coltrane International Jazz & Blues Festival, Scott will bring a catalog that’s not merely a reflection of the social, spiritual and identity politics that Coltrane explored, but a clearly defined progression of them. While his catalog doesn’t expressly reflect the sonic traditions recalled by his New Orleans birthright, the stylistic curvets between his post-rock and ambienttouched debut record Rewind That (the title track of which was played alongside his fictional double) and the essential, laser-focused outrage of his 2012 double album Christian aTunde Adjuah are a profound contemplation of the city’s cultural and social unwillingness to yield forward progress.

The latter release in particular was a rite of passage, eponymous in nature as it represents the completion of his name, but not of his work. It’s content, entirely instrumental, mostly inflames rather than resolves — “Fatima Aisha

Rokero 400” forces discourse on Sudanese ethnic cleansing, while “Who They Wish I Was” is Scott addressing on his persistent comparisons to Miles Davis through an unconcealed effort to sound like him and in the end, sounding like neither.

Seeking comparison is not Scott’s game, however. Coming from a culture where trumpet and drums are the anchors, the interplay between he and his world-beating drummer Jamire Williams are often a subconscious centerpiece of his composition. Before Williams, there was the presence of Thomas Pridgen, whose unique rhythmic skillset led him from jazz to playing experimental blues with Greensboro guitarist Eric Gales to most recently joining California hardcore band Trash Talk. It was simply another mode of writing and repertoire expansion, Scott said.

At the same time, he draws disparate elements into his writing via guitar and keys, which ultimately gets labeled as stretch jazz, or a gentler way of referring to the post-rock and ambient influences often found in it. That also leaves Scott unafraid to broach elements often deemed déclassé by jazz truists, explicitly jazz in the smooth vein, a style which has maintained a persistent place in the Coltrane Festival’s oeuvre. “Kiel” on Christian aTunde Adjuah, a song written for his twin brother, specifically retains the highly vocalized elements of a saxophonist like Kirk Whalum, a musician whom Scott has both played alongside and maintains an extreme admiration for.

“You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is more spiritually in tune with what they’re doing, compositionally and as an improviser. It’s just that it’s framed in a way that when people look at it on a linear level, doesn’t mean it’s framed as is,” Scott said. “That guy is a really f*cking bad cat, and he’s spiritual as well. There is an argument that he may have more spirituality and more exploration in his music than the top avant-garde guys.”

Scott’s empirical attitudes toward style help him not only push his own boundaries, but fill in grey areas between jazz and popular genres as a member of the NEXT Collective, whose February collection of reinterpreted rock and hip-hop Cover Art allowed him the chance to explore Jay Z and Kanye West’s “No Church In the Wild” within a strict post-bop idiom. It was a rare instance where he will confine his sound for the benefit of a single piece, because as he said himself, he’s “not the guy that listens to four or five trumpet players and develops a style,” he’s “the guy that listens to 50 trumpet players and develops a style.”

Christian Scott will perform at the John Coltrane International Jazz & Blues Festival at Oak Hollow Park at 3:30 p.m.’ 

More Essential Pre-Festival Listening Al Jarreau — L Is for Lover Whether or not you believe Al Jarreau might have wasted too many good tracks on crossover fluff, his pedigree is not to be tested. His early straight-ahead jazz work like Glow came to be properly appreciated long after he immersed himself in R&B, and the deeper he got, the more his jazz fans would become inclined to shy away. L Is for Lover is one that many jazzheads will outright deny, knowing full well that they have a copy tucked away under their mattress like a dog-eared issue of Penthouse. Produced by Chic’s dance-music maven Nile Rodgers (late of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories), L Is for Lover is an A-plus deployment of Rodgers’ canny rhythmic sensibilities. His snappy guitar and Jarreau’s impossibly nimble vocals make magic on the title track, where Jarreau rattles off a list of cities great for going the deed, and on “Say” where Jarreau two-steps the linguistic minefield between English and French.

Dave Koz — Lucky Man, Summer Horns The most iconic depiction of Dave Koz might be the forced perspective shots of his flirtation with widespread Pop AC exposure when the video for “You Make Me Smile” was in VH1’s rotation for a long minute in 1993. The vanilla Typewriter font popping out of his alto sax wasn’t exactly cutting edge for that year, but it was a pretty accurate reflection of how some artists in the smooth-jazz boom spoon-fed their audience — the entire premise of the sappy love story was right there spelled out right there in sans serif, no thought required. Koz didn’t have the profile that Kenny G had at the time — nor did he have the hard-assed fictional backstory invented for him by the Village Voice that Gorelick did — but his video did have a woman in it that bore a striking resemblance to Kenny G on the cover of his 1992 album Breathless.

Koz’s Lucky Man would go on to become a huge hit and at least a few of those selections will find their way into his set list that centers on his Summer Horns album, a collection of funk and pop covers that bring together fellow sax smoothies Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair and Richard Elliot. The album assumes that if something is good, then more of it will be even better and unfortunately for Koz and co., that isn’t the case.