Christian Scott
If such an award were given to a first-time leader in the jazz league, trumpeter Christian Scott would have hands-down scored Rookie of the Year honors for his superb debut on Concord Records, Rewind That, infused with rock, funk and soul. Even before the dynamic album was released, Billboard singled Scott out as a newcomer to watch in 2006. After the disc was issued, it was widely heralded. The L.A. Daily News noted that Scott's entrée "has been generating no small amount of hype-and in this case, the accolades are deserved. Rewind That is the real deal." Even fellow jazz musicians were paying attention. Chris Botti, in a DownBeat Blindfold Test, correctly guessed that a track he was listening to was by Scott. He said, "Lately I've been listening to a lot of CDs by new trumpeters. The only one I like is Christian's. He's the new voice in jazz trumpet...He doesn't sound like any other young trumpet player." To top off the raves, Rewind That was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category.

A year older and a year wiser, the 24-year-old Scott returns with his remarkable sophomore disc for Concord, Anthem. It's a powerful collection of 12 pieces teeming with jazz, indie rock, neo-soul and hip-hop sensibilities. While the tunes are partially informed by the New Orleans native's ruminations on the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, Scott hastens to note that Anthem also reflects the many changes he's gone through in the past year, ranging from his romantic life to his maturation as an artist. "My life changed completely," he says. "So, the compositions on Anthem aren't just about one thing. They're about all kinds of things, while they definitely have some political undertones. But, one thing is certain. The house I grew up in is gone. There's no home in the Ninth Ward."

Like Rewind That, Anthem doesn't adhere to the swing-and-blues rules of straight-ahead jazz. As he told DownBeat last year, "Ninety-nine percent of the time, [jazz] musicians come out swinging. But why bother? It's not that I can't swing. I can, and I love it, but what I'm doing does not have to sound like what other people want me to sound like." On Anthem, Marcus Gilmore's drums often connect with a neo-soul, hip-hop groove; pianist Aaron Parks, who also mans a Fender Rhodes and synths, and electric guitarist Matt Stevens play with rock music in their veins; and the funky finale track, "Anthem (Post Diluvial Adaptation," features the rapping of X-Clan's Brother J and righteous-anger trumpeting by the leader.

Throughout Anthem, Scott's blowing is spotlighted on trumpet, flugelhorn, and cornet. He even uses a slide trumpet (soprano trombone) to get a dark and visceral sound on the muse tune, "Against," that plays off of Gilmore's broken groove. Scott's distinctive horn playing has been well noted for its deep, smoky, resonant tone reminiscent of a saxophone. Joining him on the CD for harmonic horn support are tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and alto saxophonist Louis Fouché, while low-end rhythmic duties are shared by bassists Esperanza Spalding and Luques Curtis.

Anthem opens compellingly with a dark-chorded, multitextured three-song suite-"Said," Void" and "Anthem (Antediluvian Adaptation)"-that are more through-composed than they are improvisationally expressed. Scott plays cornet on all three numbers. "The cornet is darker than a trumpet," he says. "I wanted to get that menacing sound and a sense of brooding darkness." The three pieces are melancholic, reflective and emotionally charged with Scott playing in a minimalist fashion. "These three songs are so layered with meaning. It's about growing up in New Orleans and how it hard it was, then seeing the void there after Katrina. But I'm also dealing with issues in my love life."

The rhythmically flowing "Re:" finds its inspiration in Scott wanting to show how he plays, detached from his association with his saxophone-playing uncle Donald Harrison, who is his mentor. "Marcus feels the same way because his grandfather is [jazz drummer] Roy Haynes," says Scott. "We wanted to show how what we do is our own thing. You can hear that in the way Marcus makes his sticks sound like a DJ scratching."

In his mission to find new sonic palettes, Scott delivers the neo-soul vibed "Cease Fire" (about taking time out from the business at hand) with boyhood friend Fouché on straight alto saxophone. The gripping "Dialect" with its distorted guitar lines and hard-pounding piano overtones explores Scott's feelings about the African Diaspora in the U.S. He explains, "This tune is about the fact that we're all in this together-all people-and we've got to figure out in a conscious effort how to make peace despite the divisions."

Parks contributes the bold number, "The Uprising," that features the pianist adding in synth patches. Says Scott, "When the tune gets intense, you can really feel it." Scott's soulful "Katrina's Eyes" is not, as one might expect, about a hurricane, but about the dream he had where he was entranced by a baby girl that he fathered. "In the middle of the dream," he says, "I heard the melodic theme and then woke up, immediately sad because the baby wasn't there. That's why the A-section sounds so dark and sad."

The upbeat "The Nine" is Scott's ode to the devastated Ninth Ward in New Orleans, and the slow and soulful "Like That" is a song that came out of a broken relationship. "It's another reflection on my life," Scott says. "The flugelhorn gives it that smooth sound."

Anthem concludes with a blast of hip-hop-drenched jazz and the poignant social commentary of Brother J, who raps about "the future's gone backwards," about how it's time for "peace and patience," that "the passionate struggle becomes our faith" and how we're "throwing our culture to the dogs." Says Scott, "What Brother J says needs to be said."

Despite some of the obvious connections to specific realities, Scott says that, like the instrumentation on Anthem, the meanings of the tunes are layered. "There are no divides," he says. "There's something here for everybody so that everyone can hear their own personal anthems."