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Review: Christian Scott puts his outrage to good use

The jazz trumpeter calls on the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, an imprisonment of a homeless woman and other injustices in an engaging set at the Blue Whale.

September 14, 2012|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • Jazz trumpeter Christian Scott and his band perform at the Blue Whale.
Jazz trumpeter Christian Scott and his band perform at the Blue Whale. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

On "Danziger Bridge Massacre," the concluding number of Christian Scott's second 45-minute set Thursday night at the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo, the furiously gifted young jazz trumpeter let loose with exquisite howls of pain.

The song's title refers to the shooting deaths of two unarmed men (one of them mentally disabled) by New Orleans cops during the chaos that engulfed the city in the days after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Five former officers were found guilty in the subsequent civil rights and cover-up trials and sentenced to prison.

Scott's soulful requiem began with a soft, melancholy through line. Gradually he was joined by drummer Jamire Williams, tapping out a funereal cadence with mallet and stick.

Passing through stretches of Stygian gloom, the song finally burst into hot blasts of jovial defiance, as Scott twisted his body downward until his knees nearly touched the floor, summoning every ounce of breath as his trumpet yelped and seethed before winding down in a tender, tragic wail. "Danziger Bridge Massacre" could be the 21st century's "Strange Fruit" for a country that some persist in calling "post-racial" despite abundant contrary evidence.

Scott's hometown always has been the alpha and omega of his art, just as it has been for another Crescent City trumpet-playing favorite son, Wynton Marsalis. But Scott's relationship to his native city and its indigenous cultural forms has been more audibly restless and tormented than that of the urbane, bespoke-suited artistic director of New York City's Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In the liner notes to Scott's two-CD, 23-track new album, "Christian aTunde Adjuah" — the title is a traditional African name that the musician lately has adopted — Scott responds to older jazz colleagues who've questioned his Bourbon Street bona fides and challenged his right to be regarded as the second coming of Miles Davis. In his disclaimer/manifesto, the post-hip-hop Scott points out that Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver didn't play swing or bebop either, for the simple reason that they didn't live long enough to invent it.

"When one defines something," Scott writes, "they are forcing it to exist within the confines of its explanation." Amen to that.

At the Blue Whale, Scott mostly let his trumpet do the preaching. Wearing a black shirt with small red-and-white polka dots, jeans, black high-top sneakers and a traditional West African-style gold necklace, he opened his first set with a vehemently executed version of "Jihad Joe," off the new album. The punning title alludes to U.S. home-grown Islamic extremism.

Set in motion by a simple melodic fragment repeated over and over by the elegant, mild-mannered pianist Lawrence Fields, "Jihad Joe" built to a conflagration of discordancies. Scott repeatedly pressed the custom-made, 22-degree-angled bell curve of his trumpet right up to the mike, sometimes almost swallowing it, as he tapped out staccato Morse-code prophesies before bringing his band to an ominous screeching halt.

Next came another new tune, "Vs. the Kleptocratic Union (Ms. McDowell's Crime)," inspired by a Connecticut homeless woman sent to prison for enrolling her son in a local school. Thursday's live version turned the song into a rowdy lamentation, graced by one of electric guitarist Matthew Stevens' lovely, introspective solos.

Scott rags on his bandmates when he introduces them, but clearly he's enamored with them, and rightly so. Leaning in close, nodding his head and shouting exhortations, Scott led his colleagues through the gentle wash of the dreamy "Isadora" and the maelstrom of "K.K.P.D." (Ku Klux Police Department).

On the latter tune, which closed out his first set, Williams' thunderstorm Cuban drumming and Stevens' guitar kept bringing the beat staggering back to life, like Lazarus, after it had been beaten down and nearly collapsed into submission. At the Blue Whale, righteous outrage fueled endless rounds of resilient resistance.

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