2020 :: ALBUM OF THE YEAR
CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUDAH
“What you’re experiencing tonight… Is the re-evaluation. We’ve just crossed into the second century of creative improvised music, or if you believe in belittling in pejorative terms — ‘Jazz.’ But this is also part of what we’re re-evaluating — we’re re-evaluating what we’re playing and why…”
This intro to “Axiom,” spoken live after the album’s opener, sums up so much of what is captured in the title for this release. An “axiom” is a statement, assumed to be true, so that other arguments and thoughts can proceed from there. “Axiom” (the album) is a definitive statement, but only so much as it acts as a launching pad for new directions for Scott and his septet and new avenues for creative improvisation at large.
Recorded live at the Blue Note in NYC in March, as COVID tightened its grip upon the world, we see a band in flight, captured in soaring sweep. Fueled by a rekindled energy, the band shows us new directions for compositions both recent and classic. The entire 90 minutes of music here shines with an immediacy and freshness that the precision of Scott’s studio recordings often belie.
The album opens with a 2019 track, “Adjudah (I Own the Night)” and it’s a brilliant first act, with Scott’s horn swinging with the brassy energy of a toreador’s pirouetting dance. As a first volley, it’s nothing short of revelatory. But as Scott says after the track, “We’re just getting started.”
The remaining personnel is absolutely masterful here and they guide us through the entire performance with self-posession. Lawrence Fields on piano matches Scott’s defining, authoritative energy throughout. Flautist Elena Pinderhughes snakes through the performance with expressive dexterity. Weedie Braimah and Corey Fonville hold it down on djembe / congas and drums respectively with precision and chill-inducing instancy. Saxophonist Alex Han and bassist Kris Fun round out the band, anchoring, swaggering and unifying.
The remaining songs are songs of love, righteous indignation and personal experience. Each one reveals itself in crashing waves or stately steps or intimate kisses in turns.
The live nature of this album also cannot be ignored. In a time when live music seems like a distant memory, it is a reminder of the power of living, creative musical expression. And this is EXACTLY how the best live music should be… Dexterous and improvisational, emotional and powerful.
In a time of isolation, creativity will pull us through, as much as any vaccine. This is the soundtrack to that creativity both as a statement unto itself, but also to our own.