Corridors represent a new chapter for drummer/composer Kendrick Scott who returns for his third Blue Note release, leading a trio featuring saxophonist Walter Smith III and bassist Reuben Rogers. This follows Scott’s acclaimed 2019 A Wall Becomes a Bridge, with his quintet, Oracle, that we covered on these pages. Paring down the configuration was a natural byproduct of the compositions themselves, born during the lockdown, and posing a series of outward questions rather than inner contemplation. The album title is inspired by a long corridor in Scott’s NYC apartment as Scott pondered what people were doing in their homes and how lives had changed. The bigger questions centered around loss and what was taken away. Hence, as a metaphor, he decided to remove the central elements of his Oracle sound, the guitar, and piano, and go chordless for this effort.
Originally commissioned by Rio Sakairi for The Jazz Gallery’s 2020 Artist Fellowship Series, the album features eight original compositions and one new arrangement of a tune from Bobby Hutcherson. Scott explains that one of his compositional strengths is creating a harmonic space for groups and this trio setting gave him even more space than usual. All tunes feature Smith III on tenor and all three musicians except for the interludes where “One Door Closes” is a Smith III soliloquy and “Another Opens” is just the bass-drum tandem at work. The opening track “What Day Is It” has Smith III blowing a series of short, repetitive phrases to Scott’s inventive work on the kit. It flows in a meandering fashion, coursing through playful and more intense moments, perhaps reflective of the anxiety we all felt during the shutdown.
As we think of the title track, corridors suggest a walled-in directional path, a captured feeling as opposed to free-roaming spaces. In that sense, it’s paradoxical because while the musicians are playing with a sense of spaciousness, they are painting a picture of a confined space where one is likely to tense up. Here Rogers takes the melodic intro on bass and continues with that thread of melody throughout while Scott and Smith III deliver rushes of wavelike tension. “A Voice Through the Door” was titled for a Rumi poem of the same name. Smith III begins alone in an improvisational style. Interestingly, his tone always remains warm and clear yet remains on the explorative and searching side without resorting to the atonal screeching, squawking, and chirping associated with the avant improvisers. Even though he doesn’t play in the spiritual mode of Charles Lloyd, his approach bears similarities.
All three trio members express themselves individually and collectively on Hutcherson’s “Isn’t This My Sound Around Me?” while “One Door Closes, Another Opens” you’ll hear Scott as one will in live performance, singing along with his drumming. This may less apparent but still present on “A Voice Through the Door” as well. The former is in tribute to those lost and those born during the pandemic, thus the somber and quiet, tender nature of Smith III’s line together with Rogers’ arco work and deft, subtle kit work, especially on cymbals from Scott. To this point, we’re lulled into a pensive, almost trancelike state, yearning for the excitement with comes with “Your Destiny Awaits” where Scott and Rogers lay down a groove, pushing Smith III while giving him free license to improvise in a more blissful way than on the previous tracks. Scott picks up on this, delivering his own forceful solo, another of which he employs to introduce the closer, “Threshold,” the brightest piece by far in the set, emblematic perhaps as the optimism felt emerging from the pandemic. Smith’s rapid runs, accented by Rogers’ pizzicato statement, and Scott’s skittering kit work is the trio working like a well-oiled engine at full throttle.
We understand the sequencing as a journey through pandemic moods. As a consequence, two-thirds of the album is moody and contemplative, but the lack of energy has the potential to lose the casual listener’s interest unlike the last two pieces which deliver the frenetic pulse these three can bring when tapping into that style. Taken as a whole, Scott’s compositional skill is impressive as is the trio interplay.