Live review

Kendrick Scott Oracle at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill (2019 MIJF)

Kendrick Scott Oracle
(Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill. 4 July 2019. Montreal International Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Signs can be confusing (Publicity photo)

There is such a lot of reflecting and reminiscing going on here at this 40th Montreal Jazz Festival, it was hard last night for me not to reflect upon my own experiences of making a joyous annual pilgrimage to Upstairs in McKay Street, a great, intimate basement (sic) jazz club. This was my sixth time, so I’ve totted up all the amazing musicians I’ve heard there and written about – list below.

Upstairs is a welcoming place with a long bar to sit at. Those lyrics from the Cheers theme tune from 1982 come to mind: “Sometimes you want to go/ Where everybody knows your name/ And they’re always glad you came.” (Actually the second line would be a total falsehood, but I’ll gladly settle for lines 1 and 3). The music is given real respect but in that relaxed Montreal way, strangers are always happy to chat before the band starts; like the man next to me last night. He was up from eastern Quebec, and was proudly treating his son to the concert given by a quartet version of the band Kendrick Scott Oracle, mostly playing music from the new Blue Note album A Wall Becomes a Bridge.

Kendrick Scott (Publicity photo)

Kendrick Scott is a feature this year in the Upstairs festival programme, appearing at the club on four successive nights: with Gilad Hekselman, this one with him as leader, and then in Keyon Harrold’s band for the final two evenings of the festival.

A Wall Becomes a Bridge refers to drummer Kendrick Scott’s own experience of having found his way out of a period of creative block. There is also clearly a political reference too, but the fact that this was the fourth of July didn’t get mentioned. Thank you: discretion is the better part of not drawing attention to idiots.

And the music? To borrow a couple of phrases from Mike Hobart’s review of the album, this is the drummer’s own account of his “spiritual journey”, and what dominates are “swirly meditative textures”. It is thoughtful, serious music which demands concentration, and, to be honest, I couldn’t help wondering if it might not have been better served by being placed in a concert venue.

That said, the quartet of Scott with fellow New York luminaries guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Harish Raghavan (the album has Joe Sanders) are all totally accomplished musicians, are clearly at one with the idiom of Scott’s music. Moreno is a player who shapes and articulates melodic lines with intense care and craft. Eigsti does the opposite of attention-seeking and concentrates on flow and evolution of line rather than percussive emphasis, and Raghavan, who can play the role of aggressor and provoker was mainly using his wonderfully rich bass sound to be supportive. Kendrick Scott himself has phenomenal presence and virtuosity as instrumentalist, as is plain from his roles in groups led by others, but in his own band there is an abiding sense of wanting to serve a bigger purpose and to let a message prevail. And so perhaps the most moving and rewarding moment was in the tune Arcangel, when a recording of poet Sonia Sanchez reading one of her poems, a paean to love for ones brothers and sisters.

Kendrick Scott has explained his purpose thus: “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.”  Kendrick Scott sets his own terms, but the listener’s concentration is always repaid

UPSTAIRS AT MIJF 2014-2019 

2014: Harold Mabern and Jimmy Cobb (see H and U in this A to Z)

2015: Russell Malone

2016 : Peter Bernstein and Mike Rud

2017 : George Cables Trio

2018: Emmet Cohen Trio with Houston Person

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