Two numbers in, trumpeter Christian Scott told a crammed house that if anybody was going through something rough in their lives, “then we’re going to make it better”. And when Scott soared to a peak over a fusillade of rhythm, the energy levels were indeed cathartic.
But Scott doesn’t just play from the heart. Each note is placed for maximum effect and his quartet’s sound is carefully constructed. Guitarist Matt Stephens plays free-flowing jazz with the raw edge of rock and the dense bass counterpoint and rumbling polyrhythms take melodic shape. Combined with Scott’s commitment, a complex jazz core gains wider appeal.
This two-set gig, part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, came at the end of a string of one-nighters and the band was fired-up from the start. A short, sharp count brought in a riff from the bass and a seethe of Corey Fonville’s drums set the pace. Stephens joined in with three simple strums, thickened each chord and let the rhythm ride, anchored firmly by Kris Funn’s punchy double bass.
Scott entered with a fanfare cue, the pace eased back and his first bleak notes seemed shrouded in black. He whispers on ballads, but at full force he’s rounded and bright. His phrases reach deep into the complex harmonies that are his support and gather tension step by step. On this solo, the mournful beginning ended pacily with a resilient sequence of high-note trills. And Stephens was equally astute, worrying at form and building short phrases to a peak of distorted power.
Herbie Hancock’s pithily themed “The Eye of the Hurricane” came next, with a walking bass pulse and then an unsentimental ballad dedicated to Scott’s wife Isadora Mendez – she sang whispy soul vocals in the second set. The performance ended with a rocking riff straight out of Cream, but its narrative arc soon shifted gear.
The New Orleans-raised Scott is a charismatic performer who loves to chat. He dedicated the second set’s opener to Wayne Shorter – same method, different sound – eulogised his wife and, just before the finale, recalled a nasty encounter with his local police. The tune’s suppressed fury blossomed into sustained resilience and the encore, a New Orleans strut, added further healing balm.