Message points

Christian Scott's political science, Anita Coelho's connections
By JON GARELICK  |  March 9, 2010

WHAT’S GOING ON: The political content of Scott’s music is explicit only in the titles, but the playing always raises the right questions.

Instrumental music isn't very dependable at conveying specific non-musical subject matter. Ellington might conjure a Harlem air shaft, Debussy might "paint" the "image" of the sea, and Virgil Thomson might ask his friends to sit for him so he could compose their "portraits" — but what the listener hears can be something else entirely. So it takes a leap of faith to throw a politicized title on a piece of instrumental music and just hope that people get it.

Trumpeter Christian Scott has been trafficking in political content since the beginning of his young career as a bandleader. And his forthcoming Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord, March 30) has its fair share of political titles — "K.K.P.D.," "Angola LA and the 13th Amendment," "American't," and "Roe" (about Roe vs. Wade) being the most obvious. But if you just listen, you're likely to come away with nothing more or less than beautiful music of brooding intensity, from Matthew Stevens's first raw guitar chords on "K.K.P.D" to Jamire Williams's roiling drum rolls and the sober lyricism of Scott's trumpet. That and the screams you can hear in the studio. Lovely as it is, this is a dark album. Even the one love ballad, "Isadora," has the character of a lament.

As for Scott — a charismatic and self-effacing 26-year-old star who isn't afraid to talk politics during his song introductions — he says he's more concerned with raising consciousness and "getting people to think" than with a particular program. He thinks of his material as bearing witness to events and situations "that I was either a party to or heard about." It turns out that "K.K.P.D" is drawn from his experiences growing up in New Orleans's Upper Ninth Ward — "an experience I had with some police officers in New Orleans, blah, blah, blah," he says when I get him on the phone at his home in Harlem. "But, musically, one of the conclusions I've come to about how to engage audiences and keep them tapped in to what we're doing is to do our research."

So, for those opening guitar chords, Scott asked Stevens — who's been playing with him since the two met as Berklee students — to dig into the music in the region of Pulaski, Tennessee, where the Ku Klux Klan was founded. That research extended from the "mountain gospel" music of Uncle Charlie Osborne and the Carter Family to Tennessee Ernie Ford and the early Sun Records stable of blues and rockabilly stars like Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner, and Carl Perkins.

Meanwhile, he told Williams to explore the more explicitly African elements of drumming — Guinea, Benin, the music of the Caribbean, and the American South. "How did they hit the drums, what makes this sound and this sound, and why do we react to that rhythm in that way." Then came the bebop of Max Roach and "Roy Haynes snap-crackle," and, finally, "hitting the bass drum like he was playing in a hip-hop band, like an 808 drum."

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