Christian Scott-Ruler Rebel: Album Review

As showcased on 2015’s “Stretch Music,” New Orleans’s Christian Scott is apt at blurring the lines between jazz, post-punk, indie rock, and hip-hop, culminating in a pointed, afro-futurist aesthetic.  On “Ruler Rebel,” the first instalment of Scott’s Centennial Trilogy album series, Scott again excels at sonic architecture, but falters in melodic development and structure.

Each tune falls over a solid beat foundation, combining acoustic and electronic elements from a great deal of eras and traditions, but for the most part, Scott’s trumpet lines comes across as entirely improvised with little refrain to remember them by.  Perhaps the album could be an important moment in Scotts career in terms of relating his trumpet fusion chops to the hip-hop crowd with relevant sounding production, but the work alone doesn’t have enough substance to warrant deep listening.

The beats on the record are certainly notable.  “Ruler Rebel” opens with an ominous drone sound before some non-specific melodic ideas beckon in pulsing synth bass and a nice looped piano texture.  When the rhythmic beat comes full circle there’s a great deal of layers making for a soupy swell of sound to underpin the soaring trumpet melody.  “New Orleanian Love Song II” combines electronic drum sounds and hand-drumming with another hip hop-induced piano line; and “Rise Again” welcomes a bit of trap influence with rattling high-hats.  The production and overall sound on the album is exceptional—Scott should be an inspiration to any jazz musician looking to find a more relevant contemporary sound in the studio.

Guests luckily come here and there to offer a bit more communication with Scott’s trumpet work.  First is singer Sarah Elizabeth Charles on “Phases.”  Her vocals are relatively simple, but through sampling, the group plays around with mere sketches before revealing the full picture in the end.  With Charles’s neo-soul inflections in the midrange and Scott’s singing melodies panning left and right, the climax of this tune is certainly a high point of the piece.

On the backside of the record, prodigious flautist Elena Pinderhughes comes through on a pair of tracks to offer some biting solos.  “Encryption” also happens to have one of the more well thought-out songs in terms of structure.  Pinderhughes and Scott combine forces on a squirrely melody, before a metallic bass function heralds in the solo section.  It seems like when welcoming a melodic guest, Scott is under a bit more pressure to craft a song with room for development.

Scott’s trumpet work is obviously solid as well, it just covers a bit too much of the focus of the project without being tied down to a clear head.  The title-track rambles on for four minutes than fades out, before “New Orleanian Love Song” largely picks up where the last one left off.  Even the dueling trumpet sound of “The Reckoning” only offers a pair of phrases before veering into the solo territory.

Christian Scott is a hugely important creative force, but I’m hoping to hear more well written songs across the Centennial Trilogy that he’s working on.  “Ruler Rebel” is a great sonic work, but I don’t see it having a long shelf-life.

-Donovan Burtan

6.5/10

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