Christian Scott ‘Stretch Music’ (Ropeadope) 3/5

christian-scottOver the last few years the Christian Scott bandwagon has been rolling its way onward and upward, cutting through the sometimes stoic and reverent music world with an unerring power and uncompromising free spirit. Heralded by many as a new dawn for jazz/cross-genre music, whilst still being deeply rooted in the best traditions of jazz, trumpeter, composer, band-leader Scott has created a wave of publicity and hype along the way. But is it warranted? The short answer, in my opinion, is yes. Picking up the baton from Miles Davis, Scott has succeeded in bringing a fresh spirit to jazz, and two of his previous album releases, “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” and “Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah” stand for me as two of the greatest jazz albums released in the last 10 years. Inspirational and innovative. And so we come to Christian Scott’s latest release “Stretch Music”. The trumpeter, never backward in coming forward, has plenty to say about the music, including this; “I have heard some describe our approach as “stretch”, or calling what we play “stretch music.” It’s true that we are attempting to stretch- not replace- jazz’s rhythmic, melodic and harmonic conventions to encompass as many musical forms/languages/cultures as we can. My core belief is that no form of expression is more valid than any other. This belief has compelled me to attempt to create a sound that is genre blind in its acculturation of other musical forms, languages, textures, conventions and processes.” And does it live up to its admirable yet heady rhetoric? The simple answer, in my opinion, is no. There are a few reasons as to why I think this is the case. Firstly, as is inevitable with an innovative musician such as Scott, he has moved away from the core band used on many of his previous recordings to pursue new challenges. All great musicians plow a new, changing path throughout their careers and rightly so, but I feel Scott’s music on this album really lacks a couple of key ingredients he previously had. The tunes on “Stretch Music” have lost the vitality, emotional depth and strength of purpose that was so evident previously. Whether this has anything to do with no longer having drummer Jamire Williams and (apart from a guest spot on this album) guitarist Matthew Stevens along side him, I’m not sure. They did however add an enormous amount of integrity and soul to Scott’s earlier recordings. Another reason may be Scott’s pursuance of “stretching” his music to encompass all styles, perhaps as a result stretching things too far. On this album at least, he has lost some of the essence that makes his music so wonderful; its soul. His link-up with the Ropeadope label may prove to be a wise choice given time, but at the moment it appears to be more of a hindrance to his creative talent. And as for pushing music beyond normal boundaries, saxophonist/composer Kamasi Washington has already done this with much better results earlier this year on his 3 album set “The Epic”. But it’s not all doom and gloom! There are still some outstanding performances to enjoy on “Stretch Music”. As a whole I find it a confusing, not particularly well integrated mix of jazz, hip-hop, gospel, blues, pop, et al, but there are a couple of killer tracks that stand out a mile. “West of the West” is a kick-ass tune that delivers on many levels. Featuring Cliff Hines on guitar and employing some of Scott’s most assured writing, the trumpeter also hits the sweet spot with his soloing here. Matthew Stevens reminds us of the awesome sound and feel his guitar playing brings on “The Last Chieftain”, a tune that delves into the past with its brooding pursuance of an oddly uplifting melancholy. As ever, Scott’s muted trumpet playing is astonishing, especially on the atmospheric tracks “Perspectives” and “Tantric”. Saxophonist Braxton Cook shows his class on “The Corner”, and the introduction of flautist Elena Pinderhughes pays dividends throughout the album. Although there’s plenty to enjoy about “Stretch Music”, I can’t help feeling Scott has lost his way a little here. Let’s hope he rekindles the fire very soon.

A very interesting development is the innovative release of “Stretch Music – The App.” Powered by Tutti Player, the app is an interactive music player of the album. It allows musicians the ability to completely control their practicing, listening and learning experience, by customising the player to their own specific needs. By controlling the customised audio channels of every instrument on the recording, musicians can build the perfect environment to play over. The app has the ability to mute, solo, pan and fade any instrument chosen, along with tempo control, looping and sheet music for each part. Although I haven’t tested the app myself, this looks like being a major innovation and could well be a very useful tool for musicians of all standards to use for practicing. I’m not sure if this idea has been used before, but just for a moment imagine the possibilities. If other labels were to follow suit and develop this idea further by delving into the rich history of not just jazz, but all kinds of music, school kids, teachers, colleges, professionals the world over could be playing along or creating their own solos to Miles Davis, Weather Report, Coltrane, Pat Metheny…The possibilities are endless. I don’t know if the app allows the user to save and record, but on the face of it, it would seem a mighty fine idea.

Mike Gates