Christian Scott's first album Rewind That, for all its good points, sounded much like a debut album, a young player trying to find his footing amid different jazz styles and looking to the past for inspiration. In the space between that and the follow-up Anthem, Scott has found his confidence and learned to look forward.
He has also released what could be one of the best jazz discs of the year.
Anthem is emotional and urgent, mostly in its response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Scott's hometown. That frustration and sadness has been channeled into this recording, which is evident from the get-go on "Litany Against Fear," which is truly a group effort, Scott's sad trumpet lines setting the mood as much as Matt Stevens' electric guitar and the sparse, effective drums from Marcus Gilmore. One gets the feeling that while walking around New Orleans for the first time after the hurricane hit, this is the song that should be in the background, yet the players never stoop to making it sad, instead straddling the line of powerful hope warding off despair. It's a hell of a tune.
What made Rewind That so memorable was the electric guitar, not Scott's trumpet, which is not a promising sign when the name on the disc is his. Here, though, Scott asserts himself much more, and that along with the guitar lines turns each song into a mild masterpiece. "Void" uses a halting tempo to create a somber mood, which contrasts with "Anthem (Antediluvian Adaptation)," a shimmering, edgy piece highlighted by a piano solo and a generally labyrinthine yet lyrical feel.
"Re:" is a welcome breather, a two-minute hard bop piece, which then leads into "Cease Fire," propelled by a synth bass, Scott and Louis Fouche on alto sax. Most notable here are the minimal drums, with emphasis on the snare to give the feeling of marching into battle. It's a testament to how much Scott has grown in just one year that the empty spaces left by the drums are left empty, not filled up with notes, creating a sense of impending danger and leaving the listener wondering.
But all this is a prelude to "Dialect," by far the best song on the disc and one of the best I've heard all year. Beginning with a pounding piano chord, the heavy bass and drums lurch the song forward until the horns come in, a high solo first followed by Scott's lower-register notes and then Fouche later on. But it's the insistent, pounding piano chord and driving bass that take the song home; a friend of mine who heard this commented that it was "jazz rock," but jazz metal would be more like it, as Steely Dan never sounded this sinister or organic.
"Remains District" and "The Uprising" are also good tunes, if not as memorable as what came before, although "The Uprising" is a hopeful tune that contrasts with "Katrina's Eyes," a sad, bittersweet piece recalling the opener "Litany Against Fear." Also of note, as mentioned earlier, is that Scott gets his point across with fewer notes than one would expect, a testament to the power of music when imbued with emotion.
Rumors that this disc was hip-hop influenced only come true on the closing number, "Anthem (Post Diluvial Adaptation)," which takes all the emotion present in the music and puts it into a rap by Brother J of X Clan. Scott solos in between the words, recalling the melody from the other "Anthem," and it turns out to be a great way to close the disc.
The few who picked up Rewind That will be shocked to hear how much Scott has grown in just a year, and if there is any fairness in the jazz world this disc will be celebrated. Emotion often makes for the best music, and in fusing several jazz styles Scott has created an all-encompassing, celebratory yet personal disc that is well worth investing in.