Scott Shines in Diverse Residency at Montreal Jazz Festival


Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah onstage at Gesu during the Montreal Jazz Festival on June 30.

(Photo: ©Benoit Rousseau/Festival International de Jazz de Montreal)

One of the distinctive features of the annual Montreal Jazz Festival is its famous “Invitational” series, which showcases select jazz artists of some stature and depth in multiple contexts. The grand tradition goes back to a well-documented series in 1989, when bassist and bandleader Charlie Haden settled in for a multi-night residency—with some concerts recorded for posterity.

In later years, the series has divided the attention between two varied artists. This year, the festival cast twin spotlights on trumpeter Christian Scott (aka Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah) and pianist Kenny Barron, a veteran enjoying renewed veneration. Both are critically acclaimed artists: In the 2016 DownBeat Critics Poll, Barron took top honors in the Piano category and Scott won the category Rising Star–Composer.

As divergent as their musical missions are, there was one point of common ground between each musician’s three-night stint: collaborations with 21-year-old flutist Elena Pinderhughes, whose input during the Scott nights tended toward the lyrical, dynamic and altogether sensational. (Pinderhughes has certainly caught critics’ attention, topping the category Rising Star–Flute in the 2016 DownBeat Critics Poll.)

Scott’s three-night stint, in the smallish but often artistically-blessed venue Gesu, featured his bold ensemble, joined on nights two and three, respectively, by swampy guitarist Charlie Hunter and eminent vocalist Lizz Wright.

Scott’s strong, abiding band is an evolving unit, with the younger generation represented by Pinderhughes and her brother Samora, who offered intriguing harmonic and rhythmic concepts on acoustic piano and Rhodes, plus the fleet and flexible alto saxophonist Braxton Cook. Scott’s long-standing allies Corey Fonville on drums and Kris Funn on bass held down the rhythm section foundation while enhancing the grooves with enticing nuances and in-the-moment inventiveness.

Scott—who is 33 but began his professional career at the tender age of 14—has now covered enough diversified terrain to fit the notion of the “Invitational” series as a forum for artists with eclecticism in the blood (and oeuvre).

Much of the repertoire for his stint in Montreal was repeated night after night, though, as it was culled from his 2015 album Stretch Music (Ropeadope), including the tribute to his tribal New Orleans heritage, “The Last Chieftain.” One highlight in his current songbook was the tender “Diaspora,” a showcase for Pinderhughes’ flute prowess and grace.

For historic “jazz” content, Scott called on John Coltrane’s “Equinox” and Herbie Hancock’s uptempo “Eye Of The Hurricane.” (The Hancock workout came during the Hunter-featured night, and the guitarist politely slipped offstage, straightahead jazz not being his world).

Technically adroit yet melodically focused, Scott often kept his playing simultaneously brash and cool. There were virtuosic bursts and craggy catharses involved, but he also exuded a Miles Davis-ish minimalist mystique, complete with two microphones: one a clean sound, one for effects-colored sonics and expressionistic deviations from purity.

Scott’s guests made their own indigenous contributions to the particular evening’s musical fabric and patois. Hunter’s engaging shuffle-and-scramble style on his customized seven-string guitar injected a sloppy, saucy energy into the band sound, and he brought an entirely different rhythmic feel and chordal soloing to “The Last Chieftain”—New Orleans logic recast by a passionate outsider.

Wright’s role in the Scott residency came from a very different contextual and expressive place, ushering in a warm glow of soulful, gospel-soaked radiance and, as Scott rightly described, a “regal” presence.

Before launching into the testimonial glory of “Surrender” (which turned out to be the closer for the set and the series), Wright mused that “for the first time in my life, I’m the oldest person on the bandstand.” She is all of 36, but blessed with an old soul’s majesty and control, sometimes channeling a bit of Nina Simone, as heard on a personalized take on Neil Young’s “Old Man” (with yet another tasteful flute solo from Pinderhughes) and on “Freedom,” from Wright’s moving 2015 album Freedom & Surrender (Concord).

Scott’s “Invitational” series thus closed on a soulful, “church-ified” note, and one in which the honored artist graciously yielded the spotlight to his inspired guest. From another angle, though, on that song, the focus went wide to include the group-feel of the entire ensemble onstage, extending out into the extremely appreciative crowd. Suddenly, this rehabbed, restaged church venue embodied a type of universal religiosity, the kind made possible through the sheer power of enlightened song.

(Note: For more info on the Montreal Jazz Festival, which runs through July 9, visit the festival’s website.)

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