Jazz is officially 100 years old. Its roots go back a bit farther, with the emergence of ragtime in the late 1800s, but the first proper jazz recording, Original Dixieland Jass Band’s “Livery Stable Blues,” was released in 1917. The Original Dixieland Jass Band came up in New Orleans, which has since become recognized as the birthplace of jazz and, not coincidentally, is the home of 34-year-old trumpet player and bandleader Christian Scott. Since 2006, Scott (or Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah) has kept up a steady stream of releases that have combined innovations in hard-bop jazz with political commentary that speaks to the Black experience in America. Yet with a planned trilogy of albums this year, intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of jazz, Scott pushes forward while recognizing and celebrating the past.
Scott’s new triptych, titled “The Centennial Trilogy,” is described as “a sobering re-evaluation of the social and political realities of the world through sound,” per his Bandcamp page. Yet in spite of the conceptual threads that intertwine throughout the first two installments, neither Ruler Rebel nor Diaspora is overtly tied to the sounds of jazz’s past, nor is either album explicit in its message. Rather, each uses tone and mood to convey alternate feelings of anguish and celebration, creating a sequence of music that’s at times ambient and otherworldly, but ultimately the work of unmistakable human expression.
Ruler Rebel is the first of the two, and as an introductory piece it finds Scott making connections between classic hard-bop sounds—his trumpet playing at times evoking that of the great Miles Davis—with contemporary electronic and hip-hop beats and textures. “Phases,” for instance, has an atmospheric beauty that evokes the orchestral nu-jazz feeling of a group like Cinematic Orchestra, yet snaps with a minimalist trap beat beneath Sarah Elizabeth Charles’ gorgeous, understated vocals. The leadoff title track is layered and progressive, a hypnotic piano sequence driving the track, while “New Orleanian Love Song” is part breathtaking ballad, part percussion-driven march. The strongest of the bunch is closing track “The Reckoning,” which is swathed and reverb, simultaneously melancholy and majestic. It’s a powerful and intense end to a set of constantly shifting approaches.
Diaspora, meanwhile, shifts away from some of the first installment’s darker, more hallucinatory tones. The title track alone marks a pretty dramatic transition, its laid-back trip-hop beats ushering in a more accessible, immediate sound that features a little less in the way of stylistic experimentation. Which isn’t to say there isn’t any; in fact, Diaspora is largely cut from the same cloth, albeit with results that skew a bit more toward the pop-friendly. “Desire and the Burning Girl,” for instance, is one of the album’s most surreal, with a heavy dose of effects clouding Scott’s horn playing as a rhythmic pulse grooves in the background. Yet there’s more of a lightness about these tracks overall; “Lawless,” for instance, is by production standards a pretty hectic and dramatic track, though it’s ultimately a highly melodic piece, even loungey in a way that’s not so obvious.
Ruler Rebel and Diaspora contain some of Scott’s most interesting blends of styles to date, yet whatever elements he pulls from—trap, trip-hop, jungle, rock, psychedelia—are always in the service of the composition. With one more in the series to be released later this year, “The Centennial Trilogy”‘s story isn’t finished yet, but it’s already a compelling saga. Reaching through 100 years of history and Black music while documenting a struggle that frustratingly, tragically continues, Christian Scott is creating some of the most vital jazz of the 21st century.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.