Label: Blue Note Records, 2019
Personnel - John Ellis: saxophones, clarinets, flute; Mike Moreno: guitars; Taylor Eigsti: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Kendrick Scott: drums; Jahi Sundance: turntables.
A Wall Becomes a Bridge is the fourth offering from American drummer/composer Kendrick Scott and his working group Oracle. It's a positive sequel to his previous We Are the Drum (2015), also released on the Blue Note Records. Even haunted by fears and insecurities while in the process of writing music for this new effort, Scott was able to put a commendable record together with the help of his bandmates. The album’s title certainly refers to that complicated phase, but also has political connotations, alluding to the drummer's dissatisfaction regarding the presidency of his country.
The album was produced by bassist Derrick Hodge and features a core of extraordinary musicians, including the fascinating guitarist Mike Moreno, Scott’s longer-lasting collaborator, adaptable saxophonist/clarinetist John Ellis, flexible pianist Taylor Eigsti, and rock-solid bassist Joe Sanders. Scott also hired turntablist DJ Jahi Sundance on shorter interlude-like pieces, typically inclusive of syncopated hip-hop treatments, vocal samples, and atmospheric instrumentation as they explore a new genre hybridization. As a result of this particular selection, I picked the chamber-esque “Windows” as a highlight, one of the two pieces co-written with Hodge.
The bandleader’s hypnotic drumming also embodies hip-hop vibes on “The Catalyst”, where Moreno brings forth a sophisticated guitar sound and language that nod to Metheny and Rosenwinkel alike. His instrument also illuminates the soul-stirring “Voices”, which blends the gentle, measured aesthetics of Tomasz Stanko and Tord Gustavsen, but also brings something of Rosenwinkel’s “Zhivago” in the melody and ambiance. This composition was the promptest response to the drummer’s insecurities and, ironically, Scott is all confidence here, firing up formidable drum fills with magnitude and authenticity.
Whether it is the waltzing flow of the Hodge-penned “Don Blue”, the emotionally-charged environment of the Strayhorn-ish ballad “Becoming”, or the enigmatic sound waves caused by the bass clarinet on Aaron Parks’ 7/4 “Nemesis”, the musicians show they’re comfortable and digging every move. Moreover, even the slower tunes flirt with vibrancy.
Eigsti’s “Mocean” is another example of narrative devotion and strong communication as Scott’s pounding bass drum kicks lead the way. The rich solo section features the pianist’s fleet-fingered articulation and Ellis’ expressive fire on the clarinet. The group wraps up with the charming “Archangel”, lustrously portrayed in 3/4 and embraceable of Moreno’s acoustic sounds.
Inviting the listener to his sonic world, Scott deserves kudos for turning the difficulties into a positive outcome.
02 - Mocean ► 04 - Voices ► 11 - Nemesis