Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah plays three different horns on his new album, Stretch Music (Introducing Elena Pinderhughes)— the siren, the sirenette, and the reverse flugelhorn. They’re horns by his own design. They are somewhat more difficult to play than the typical trumpet. They are as attuned to his style of play– crafted, beaten and broken and lovingly bent to make music likely only he can make. They are as crafted and designed as his band, a group that has gone through a certain degree of molding over the years as well, and has been through its own loving process of craft together to make this music. They function as tools for expression, specialized as if for a surgeon forging new roads through medicine. Only this man can wield these horns, like John Henry’s hammer. It’s careful craft and attention to detail and design that to this same degree is the essence of Stretch Music, another in a fine line of Christian Scott albums that always seem to arrive at just the perfect times.
Stretch Music feels nimbler than Scott aTunde Adjuah’s last self-titled outing back in 2012. The construction feels the same, the song elements of Scott’s model for album construction over the years are still there– the plucky interludes from Lawrence Fields’ augmented piano, Matt Stevens rocking out on the guitar in a few touches, Kris Funn holding down the bassline as usual. Yet the largess of Scott’s last release is pared back here. The ever-constant artistic philosophy of doing what works is what guides what appears to be trimming the fat to make a lean, agile album that can be as intense as it is intensely enjoyable.
This new band is fantastic. Kris Funn remains a longstanding member of Scott’s group, holding down the pocket in such a signature way he’s like a butt groove in your favorite recliner, and how one can be so intimately aware of every contour in said butt groove– its hills and valleys, the way one can lean in the recliner a certain way for added comfort when days are more trying or find the crest of the groove when excitement peaks and one finds oneself and the edge of one’s seat. Funn is a rock, yet he is a rock who is by no means immune to erosion, and he finds this erosion as a constant refinement. Corey King is the sound of consistency on the trombone, making greatness happen in accents and accompaniment. He has always been brilliant as an arranger and it’s that structural sense on the trombone that fits so well alongside Scott’s horns. Lawrence Fields remains a constant lyrical presence on the keys– innovative, expressive, workman-like in his supportive comping and able to soar like a bird in his soloing. Lawrence Fields never fails to impress.
The trade off on guitars between longstanding member Matthew Stevens on four songs here and New Orleans fixture Cliff Hines throughout the rest of the album speaks to its crafting. Both certainly rock, but Hines’ more electronic influences and filtering of his instrument make for a more layered, cerebral sound that blurs the musical lines here. Contrasted with Stevens’ more upfront guitar on songs like “West of the West” or “The Last Chieftain” indicate an album with a varied vibe that speaks not only to where this band has been before and what it is in this iteration, but also once again to the pains taken to the album’s crafting. In a similar sense, the dual percussion from Corey Fonville on drums and electronic pads and Joe Dyson, Jr. on Pan-African drums and electronic pads on dueling left and right audio channels speaks to the interplay in this music and with this group. This is a pair of spectacular percussionists and they both sound great together here.
In a long line of constant realizations on my part, like Phil Connors making an interminable trip to Punxsutawney, PA, I’m reminded once again to never sleep on vibraphonist Warren Wolf. And it must be said that newcomer flutist Elena Pinderhughes is so bright and airy and technical a voice on her instrument, it makes all the fanfare of including her name in the album title all the more apt. She fits in this group quite well and adds an extra texture wholly welcome.
We’re fans of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah here at Nextbop, this much is clear. He has been a constant support for us and an incredible energy. Disclosing this fact is necessary for the sake of journalistic integrity, but also because it goes to state the kind of person Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is to make this kind of music, to pull these musicians together, to grow as an artist in such a way with an understanding of melding old legacies with new inclinations, of looking forward at what art can make in album and in app format (IT’S NOT ON ANDROID YET, THO!), of taking pains about craft to such an extent that the physical form of things thought to be common and convention just won’t suffice sometimes when the task calls to make something new. The conventions of technology had to stretch. The conventions of composition had to stretch. The conventions of Scott’s band had to stretch. The conventions of how he made an album had to stretch. The conventions of this music had to stretch. The conventions are still there, not contorted beyond recognition and could be appreciated still for being conventions — the wheel is certainly not reinvented here and that’s certainly still a good thing — but this is certainly a shifting of those conventions. For an album called Stretch Music, it is certainly an apt title. This is something new from Christian Scott– he who is stretching the genre of jazz into something more, and the rest of us continue to stretch our minds and ears to contain it.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Trumpet, Sirenette and Reverse Flugelhorn
Elena Pinderhughes – Flute
Braxton Cook – Alto, Straight Alto
Corey King – Trombone
Cliff Hines – Guitar
Lawrence Fields – Piano, Fender Rhodes
Kris Funn – Bass
Corey Fonville ‒ Drums, SPD-SX pad (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Joe Dyson Jr. – Pan African Drums, SPD-SX (tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
Matthew Stevens – Guitar (tracks 4, 5, 7, 10)
Warren Wolf – Vibes (tracks 3, 7)
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.