Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah Stretches Toward a Bold Leap

photo: Delpthine Diallo
photo: Delpthine Diallo

In late August, at midnight at Preservation Hall, a spot as steeped in musical history as any in New Orleans, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah gave his hometown crowd a preview of his new recording. Mr. Adjuah, who is 32 years old, grew up in the city’s Upper Ninth Ward. After six years in Harlem and a year in Los Angeles, he had moved back.
“Stretch Music,” the name of Adjuah’s recently released album (and of his independent label, distributed by Ropeadope Records), signifies a clear and urgent music that the trumpeter doesn’t call “jazz” but that nevertheless leans on some of jazz’s most elemental influences and ends up nudging the form ahead.
Here’s my review in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. 
The trumpeter is especially drawn to African elements, rhythmic and otherwise. Four years ago, he augmented his name, Christian Scott, with two more, denoting cities of ancestral significance in Ghana. (“An attempt to reclaim my past,” he told me in an interview.) With his previous band during the past decade, Adjuah crafted a sleekly original blend of jazz sophistication, hip-hop attitude and the edginess of alternative rock. His albums inched steadily forward along those lines. This new album is more so a bold leap.
“I realized what was missing from my sound was its history,” he said at Preservation Hall. “Once I captured that, it became easier to say something new.” The key to this new band is a pan-African drum kit played by Joe Dyson Jr., a magnificently gifted drummer. It includes West African drums within a trap set: a djembe drum laid on its side replaces the bass drum; dundun drums serve as toms. “Some people think beats are just beats,” Adjuah said. “But there are specific vibrations that are only possible if you have the drum that creates that vibration.” On his new release, the vibrations from Dyson’s drums are paired with the samples triggered by SPD-SX pads—which are de rigueur in rap and hip-hop circles—most often played within the trap set of a second drummer, Corey Fonville.
In tandem, these drummers underscore Adjuah’s historical references as they lend the music palpable force. The song “Twin” traces Adjuah’s own lineage through three distinct and insistent rhythms, drawn from West Africa, the Caribbean and New Orleans. Listeners needn’t know that to feel the tug of something deeply felt and danceable. On the opening track, “Sunrise in Beijing,” the drummers create delightfully skittering and decidedly contemporary beat patterns, atop which a lovely melody floats, mostly via Elena Pinderhughes’s flute.
Overall these tracks are concise pieces, by jazz standards, with little in the way of extended solos (though Adjuah makes the most of his moments, as when blowing fiercely on the ballad “The Last Chieftain” and the propulsive “West of the West”). Adjuah has a way with melody and drama. Yet the most captivating aspect is the degree to which this music sounds like a conversation among the nine musicians in his band (plus, on some tracks, two guests)—not simply calls-and-responses, but more so ideas considered and traded with due care in real time.
That sounds like the mechanics of a good modern-jazz ensemble, which Mr. Adjuah and his associates, including Pinderhughes and a fine young alto saxophonist, Braxton Cook, amount to. And yet their sounds arrive here most often cloaked in textures associated with other styles of music, or that sound entirely new: jagged lines and halo-like echoes from processed electric guitar on some tracks; inscrutable tones created by altering the strings of Lawrence Fields’s piano with putty or paper on others; and, best of all, the pleasing collision of those sampled and African-drum beats.

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