New Orleans native Christian Scott has often shown a penchant for pushing the envelope. Though reliably anchored by his warm, typically muted trumpet work, his previous albums have incorporated influences from fusion to funk to world music. But with Christian aTunde Adjuah, the 29-year old takes a bold leap: A two-CD release comprised of 23 tracks, Christian aTunde Adjuah draws on New Orleans second-line rhythms, the African Diaspora and the electronic loop programming of Squarepusher and Aphex Twin. These influences aren’t always literal, but they dance around the edges of Scott’s charged compositions like ghosts haunting a dream.
Scott and his explosive, adventurous band — guitarist Matthew Stevens, drummer Jamire Williams, bassist Kris Funn, pianist Lawrence Fields, tenor saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III, alto saxophonist Louis Fouche IIII and trombonist Corey King — tackle some pretty serious themes, including, as the liner notes mention, “ethnic cleansing, kidnapping andâ€¦the rape of 400 indigenous African Sudanese.” And that’s only in the first track, “Fatima Aisha Rokero 400.” Instrumentally, the group’s common language, beyond their serious improvisation skills, is based on manually cycled loops, with each musician performing repetitive figures that recall electronic dance music, or, some might say, Live Evil-era Miles Davis. Scott’s band imbues the music with a playful and fragmented nature, and his muted, Miles-inspired trumpet lends the music an eerie, forlorn quality.
Disc two takes a similar approach, though with backbeats suggesting a contemporary, if still dark, pop-funk approach. “Jihad Joe” spirals and dances over a trancelike 7/4 pulse, Scott spewing trumpet scrawl, drummer Jamire Williams soloing like a spongy Tony Williams roving over the kit. “Liar Liar” could be Miles Davis’s “Decoy” sampled and spliced for contemporary ears. The album closes with “Cara,” a surprisingly gentle, piano based ballad that has the feel of sunrise to it, not the catharsis that came before.
Though his band’s cyclical rhythms sometimes sound static instead of propulsive and Scott’s trumpet has a sameness in tonality and mood, there’s no denying that Christian aTunde Adjuah is one hell of a growth spurt. The only moment in the set’s two-disc sprawl where Scott acknowledges straight-ahead jazz bears a telling, sardonic title: “Who They Wish I Was,” The message is clear: Scott will not be categorized.