Monday, October 8, 2007

Christian Scott at the Dakota: Jazz concert review

Photo by John Whiting. L2R: Louis Fouche,
Andrew Marsh (partial), Christian Scott, Matt Stevens

Originally published on Jazz Police.

There’s been a lot of buzz about Christian Scott. Just 24 years old, New Orleans born and bred, Berklee educated, the personable young trumpeter played a one-night stand at the Dakota on Sunday, October 7. Just two weeks earlier, we’d seen him at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival. He arrived at the Dakota with three members of the band he’d played with in Monterey, Louis Fouché on alto sax, Luques Curtis on bass, and Matt Stevens on guitar. Andrew Marsh on drums rounded out the quintet. Lacking a piano player, Scott occasionally laid his horn down and did some comping of his own.

The late show at the Dakota began with a beautiful interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” a showcase for Scott’s unique tone: breathy, eloquent, older than his years. Some critics have compared Scott to Miles Davis, an inevitability when anyone new picks up a trumpet; others describe his tone as more like Ben Webster’s. Scott counts Davis among his many influences, which also include Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, and Freddie Hubbard. His tone whispers, cajoles, elucidates, caresses (he’s young enough to be my son, so I’ll be careful here), but can also breathe fire when he wants it to.

“Katrina’s Eyes,” the original tune that followed “Footprints” in the Dakota set, is a track on Scott’s second CD, Anthem, recently released on the Concord label. (His debut CD, Rewind That, came out on Concord in 2006 and earned a Grammy nomination.) Like Terence Blanchard, another New Orleans musician whose life was changed by Hurricane Katrina, Scott felt compelled to say something about the storm’s devastation and aftermath. Anthem is for Scott what A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) is for Blanchard, a personal expression of the inexpressible. It’s interesting that “Katrina’s Eyes” is not, as Scott explains, about the hurricane. Instead, it’s based on a dream Scott had about fathering a baby girl—something you don’t know unless you hear him perform it live and introduce it himself. He heard the theme in a dream, awoke to find the baby not there, and felt a deep sadness and loss, which permeates the melody.

Scott told us the story about “Katrina’s Eyes,” and about the next tune he played, which was based on an encounter with a racist in Boston. “I’ll show you what my trumpet sounds like when it gets angry,” he said, and did, breathing fire. As we heard earlier in Monterey, Scott likes to preface his songs with stories. He’s a bit of a ham but not a show-off; his stories are interesting and add flavor to his music. The living got easy again with “Summertime,” a version that showcased Stevens’s guitar.

They followed with what Scott termed “Mardi Gras 101,” a call-and-response based on the music of the Black Indian tribes of New Orleans. This went over so well that Scott decided to give us “Indian Blues” next instead of another track from Anthem. A now-classic blend of jazz and Mardi Gras music, “Indian Blues” was originally recorded in 1991 by Donald Harrison Jr., Scott’s uncle (and himself a Mardi Gras Indian chief since 1988). This was announced as the final tune of the set, and we were told that Scott doesn’t do encores, but he surprised us and did, ending with “Litany Against Fear” from Anthem. As he had done in Monterey, Scott prefaced his performance with a story about the song’s origins: meeting a little boy in New Orleans’ 9th ward whose big brother had just been arrested and who was afraid of the “bad police.” The more I hear this song (live and on CD), the more I like it. The hypnotic, repetitive opening phrase (played by pianist Aaron Parks on the CD) is a security blanket for Scott’s trumpet and Stevens’ guitar as they lead us through a series of emotions: grief, mourning, and ultimately hope. Scott may be in his early 20s, but he’s thinking grown-up thoughts, which can happen when your life gets blown out from under you.

After the show, we headed for the green room to say hello. Scott had already positioned himself at the club’s front door so he could greet people as they left. We had a brief conversation, during which someone mentioned dogs. Scott had two beloved Labradors, both lost during Katrina when he was forced to leave them behind.

Later this month, Scott plays the Blue Note and Sculler’s, then heads back to New Orleans for the Voodoo Music Experience. In November, he goes to the US Virgin Islands for the St. Croix-New Orleans Jazz Festival. Catch him if you can, wherever he lands.

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