Time is a funny thing.
So much of life’s ostensibly most meaningful moments — birthdays, annual holidays — are little more than anniversaries, making ceremonial what could just as easily have passed by unnoticed.
And so Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah has ceremonialized the recent 100-year anniversary of recorded jazz music with his three-album Centennial Trilogy — a monstrously creative and affecting release which quietly took up space throughout all of 2017, disrupting and re-defining modern definitions of jazz and receiving criminally little credit for it.
Simply put, the Centennial Trilogy is something we’ve never seen before in jazz: an artist releasing three stylistically distinct albums in a single year — all aimed at spanning and celebrating the recorded history of jazz which began with the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s “Dixie Jass Band One Step”, released as a Victor 78 in 1917, in Christian Scott’s home base of New Orleans.
As a whole, Scott’s Centennial Trilogy embodies the lineage of jazz creation, drawing lines between even Scott’s most modern, trap-influenced sounds and the familiar, celebratory swinging sounds of the jazz age. Consumed one-at-a-time, though, each album gives the listener a remarkably different experience.
Ruler Rebel serves as a soaring ode to Scott’s hometown of New Orleans, while Diaspora, as its name suggests, celebrates the rhythmic feels and traditions that arose from the historic movement of African peoples to the Americas and around the globe. Lastly, The Emancipation Procrastination delves into darkness and social commentary rarely treated with such a light hand.
We all know not to go around cavalierly comparing contemporary jazz musicians to Miles Davis. It’s easy to say but is hardly ever true — who but Miles has made such wide-reaching innovations, within jazz and beyond it, absorbing the pop culture obsessions buzzing around him and incorporating new cross-genre sounds seamlessly into his own?
But here is Christian Scott, whose Centennial Trilogy is inclusive of post-bop harmonic foundations, boom-bap hip-hop feels, Afro-Cuban percussion and the electric beat manipulations — all while sounding unmistakably his. Somewhat evasive of using the word “jazz” at all, Scott prefers the term “stretch music” to describe his genre and its boundlessness. For all intents and purposes, this is futuristic jazz “fusion” — but a fusion of influences jazz has never experienced before.
Courtesy of Ropedope Records.
Scott has crafted his own sound over his career, with the latest versions heavy on fuzz and electronic manipulation, but on these albums, the “stretch music” ethic is fully realized with songs that pay homage to virtually every style of jazz and jazz-adjacent sub-genres. In an age when jazz, on a popular scale, is often either being labeled as “dead” (thanks, La La Land) or being relegated to the museum-like spaces and traditions of classical music (thanks, Wynton Marsalis), Christian Scott overrides it all, balancing the unpayable debt all jazz musicians owe to their lineage with the relentless forward thinking that has always made jazz — well, jazz.
And, as with all true landmark releases, these albums aren’t as much about the leader on the record as they are about the cast of hyper-relevant innovators with whom the leader’s chosen to collaborate — including up-and-coming soloists like flautist Elena Pinderhughes, (sister of acclaimed pianist-composer Samora Pinderhughes), fellow genre shapeshifters like vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles, and compositional collaborators like saxophonist and singer-songwriter Braxton Cook (who’s worked with nu-jazz bands like Butcher Brown and whose solo career is swiftly rising).
If Scott is the future of jazz, he’s taking that on as a collaborative identity, not giving himself as much credit for this release as this release itself deserves. It’s worth asking, actually, whether this anniversary and moment of reflection would have passed by unmarked if not for this trilogy.
Akin to first name-basis legends like Monk, Miles, Coltrane, Duke or Mingus — nobody else sounds like Christian. Here, he takes his rightful place among the jazz pantheon. °
Special thanks to Christian Scott and Ropeadope Records for their generosity in allowing our use of these photos and songs — and to our friends at OPB Music for producing the above live session and interview.