I’m starting to like this whole jazz-infused thing going on over here. Getting the horns of it, so to speak. This even though, to be completely frank, this new Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah project titled Ancestral Recall could hardly be contained within conventional and canonical jazz qualification criteria. Still, for starters, Apple Music and editorial co. do choose to file this release under said genre tag, so there you go with some industry machinery validation to all skeptics’ faces. In any event, with pigeonholing adversities out of the way, fact of the matter is that this new album by the New Orleans-native trumpet extraordinaire went on to steal my new heat scene ever since dropping last Friday 22nd March without too much fanfare. Issued jointly by his home-brewed imprint Stretch Music LLC and US East Coast label Ropeadope Records, Scott’s new joint sports a full hour of new material, broken down into twelve distinct cuts, which see the jazz composer/producer reach out for assistance to a decent list of collaborators, ranging from influential hip-hop musician, slam-poet, and activist Saul Williams to up-and-coming Bronx MC Mike Larry Draw. Other similarly drafted acts joining the project ranks are usual suspect partner in crime and flutist Elena Pinderhughes as well as alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and producer Logan Richardson.
Such a collaborative spirit is not only reflected in the varied batch of team-ups established to complement to the sonic palette of the record, for this quest for musical cross-pollination and style contamination is also mightily reflected in the genres and sounds throughout Ancestral Recall. Through his latest effort, rather quite explicitly, the trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, and soprano trombone prodigy sought to create “a map to de-colonialize sound; to challenge previously held misconceptions about some cultures of music; to codify a new folkloric tradition and begin the work of creating a national set of rhythms; rhythms rooted in the synergy between West African, First Nation, African Diaspora/Caribbean rhythms and their marriage to rhythmic templates found in trap music, alt rock, and other modern forms”. Faithful and devoted to his mission statement, Scott managed to draw all the suitable elements from a globe of musical jigsaw-repertoire to craft a superbly modern and audacious melting pot captured in form of a jazz record. Spanning everything from indigenous and tribal percussion rudiments, electro-industrial drum machines, sweet and sugary melodic soundscapes, intricate horn lines, free jazz suites, and of course 16-bars, multi-ethnic influences and anti-colonial creativity get tastefully entangled to output a coherent and unified listening journey.
The album’s eponymous lead single, released in early February, acted as vehicle for a first – partially misleading – sonic taster of the multi-modal canvas Scott was going for on his fourteenth studio effort. Presenting a hectic and frenetic lead rhythm extrapolating a percussive mix of djembe, mande drums, kaganu, tambourine, kalimba, bata, and congas (good luck figuring out which one’s which…), it runs on continuous high energy and drive throughout all of its six-minute runtime. Rallying with Williams’ pensive preaching spoken-word lines, this track’s sharp intensity only ever gets matched by the mechanically hammering and gorgeously melodically lush “I Own the Night” at number two on the tracklist, and perhaps tangentially by segments of the jungly “The Shared Stories of Rivals (KEITA)” – both incidentally enlisting Williams’ wordplay and co-sign. Make no mistake though, despite the A-list feat and the driving flame of this lot of tracks, heaviness and density do not account for an overshadowing of more laid back, reflective, and mellower moments on the album.
Vulnerable and fun opener “Her Arrival”, for instance, lands on the shorter side of track lengths yet baptises the auditory lifecycle of Ancestral Recall in an outstanding fashion, with its quasi-celestial crescendo of trumpet, flute, and flugelhorn lines exploding in a fulfilling cascade of waterfall-y harmonies, sustained by subtly glorious choir chants. Further down the tracklist, the middle section of this LP allows for a relaxed breather in a way that, unfortunately, is not always on point and successful, resulting very run-of-the-mill. While the spaced out reverb of “Diviner” cradling tribal horns atop of a contemporary trap beat might at least induce a hint of curiosity and warrants to be admired for its experimentation, “Overcomer” at number six can’t seem to offer anything noteworthy in the way of daring to overturn predictable compositional standards of the genre, unlike much of the rest of the tracks on this project. Likewise, song number eight “Ritual (Rise of Chief Adjuah)” checks in as a totally forgettable record, offering second-hand and unoriginal aesthetic elements found in much better form and rendition in tracks like the glitzy and tender “Songs She Never Heard“, or in penultimate mash-up “Double Consciousness”.
An entirely distinct commentary and reflection is owed to the Chris Turner and Mike Larry Draw-assisted “Forevergirl“, a fuzzy and reverb-soaked indie-acoustic number offering a supreme melodic texture embedded in a warm jazzy horn frame. Yes, you read that right. On here, soul-jazz NY crooner Chris Turner lends the tune the necessary vocal depth in order to fit both a main acoustic guitar riff that sounds as if sampled from a Front Bottoms demo and a marching syncopated tambourine rhythm. Granted, the overall mixing and mastering of “Forevergirl” does leave a little bit to be desired, yet when paired against the rest of the production output delivered on Ancestral Recall, this rendering ends up sounding more like a conscious stylistic choice weaving into the tune’s lo-fi B-side vibe, than an actual flaw in the creation process. Young rapper Mike Larry Draw provides one of the highlights on this thing with his bars peppered towards the front-end of the track, showcasing a fierce attack to the drumming beat carried forward by a decisive and swagger-ish flow.
More than anything though, this flagship tune has us go full circle with the premise of this review: this is as much a modern mainstream jazz record as it is a colourful kaleidoscope of sounds and 360-degree world cultures. Arguably, no single song on the album displays the vast multiplicity of such traits better than “Forevergirl”. So let us hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, as he spoke to The Fader about the track earlier this month. But please make it what you want. After all, didn’t we all just learn that in Christian Scott’s music, anything goes?
“I wanted to sonically mirror some of the things I had seen in an analytic cubist rendering of two lovers. In that form an object is taken apart and reassembled in abstraction to depict the object from as many perspectives as possible. Essentially giving a more global viewing of what the object is comprised of. I wanted create in sound what I was seeing. So there are a multitude of parts/voices collapsed onto one another to stamp out ambiguity in the composition, to help focus a more clear reading through sort of encapsulating the sentiment in sound into a confined space. You can hear this in the many layers of trumpet, muted and non-muted, and in what I wrote for Chris Turner. A different take on constructing a love song. As my brother Terrace Martin says ‘there’s a thousand ways to say I love you.’ I wanted to channel that in this one.”
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH
2019, Stretch Music LLC / Ropeadope