Kendrick Scott Oracle Expands Quintet and Overcomes Personal and Collective Obstacles Via “A Wall Becomes a Bridge” (ALBUM REVIEW)

Kendrick Scott Oracle continues his multi-layered, unified jazz vision with his fourth album, the second for Blue Note, the cleverly named  A Wall Becomes a Bridge. Like his previous 2015  We Are the Drum, Deri k Hodge returns to produce as the drummer and composer Scott adds turntablist Jahi Sundance to his long-running ensemble of guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Taylor  Eigsti, reedist John Ellis, and bassist Joe Sanders.

Together, they produce a contemplative, mostly ensemble-based lyrical, style of jazz that favors gentle harmonic exploration and blending over explosive firepower. The contributions of Sundance add a bit of curiosity and disturbance, perhaps intentionally, to the gorgeous palettes.  While Scott is the leader, his drumming doesn’t reach for the spotlight but stays in support of the tune. Careful listening reveals intense moments as many of the moody compositions build drama and glide through dynamic shifts. (i.e. “Voices,””Pleh”) This combination of lyricism (i.e. “Becoming”) and urgency evoke latter-career recordings of Wayne Shorter, and even some of Shorter’s moments in Weather Report. Some of the segues are staggering such as the furious drumming toward the end of “Pleh” leading into Ellis’s evocative bass clarinet introduction to “Nemesis,” which then makes way for adventurous guitar work from Moreno.

Scott came to the album at a creative impasse. He wasn’t happy with anything he had written and was ridden with self-doubt. Rather appropriately he points to a quote from Shorter, “there’s always something unfolding on the other side of the negative.” Producer Hodge witnessed what Scott was going through and convinced him that they had to make art about these fears and insecurities. In other words, he got him out his funk, gathered up tunes, finished and unfinished and put the band to work.

So, on one level the album title refers to Scott’s creative breakthrough, but he also wanted the idea to speak to the current President. Scott sees a silver lining to our current socio-political state. “With all of these different issues coming to the forefront, we can now say, ‘Things like systemic racism still exist and we need to deal with them.’ More people are paying attention to the government, and that level of intensity is what we need – as is that level of intent in how we vote and how we live and how we treat others. All of those things are a bridge.” According to Scott the project is not only a response to a personal struggle but a collective one in that we are more connected and divided at the same time and that we should use that awareness as a opportunity to be unified.

The music was sequenced to explore the narrative, with twelve stages including Perspective, Breakthrough, Doubt, Acceptance, Denial, and Innocence. In the end, in the lovely “Archangel” we reach transformation and optimism, as if we can breathe a little easier, connoted by Eigsti’s glistening piano runs.

Scott sees the word “oracle” in the context of the band as an entity, pushing the audience to ask deeper questions about one’s meaning. He says, “Accordingly, our music is played with passion and sincerity. In every note, written and unwritten, the listener is exposed to an array of complex emotions. Emotions that lead to a broader truth through the journey of self-discovery. WE hope the music can call some people to action. Others to inaction. These are the kinds of personal reactions the music was written and played to evoke.” Scott points to the influence of jazz master drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the movie The Matrix as using music to communicate messages of truth that challenge the status quo. He urges us to also search out the music of his bandmates – all leaders in their own projects.

This is some of the most engaging, beautiful music heard since Wayne Shorter’s Grammy-winning Emanon. There’s that name again. Oh, and Shorter was one of the original Jazz Messengers too.

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