Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah Redefines Rhythm with Ancestral Recall

 Evan Dale // Mar 21, 2019 

There are few if any artists in music today more important to its experimental foundation and greater direction than Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. The incomparably talented jazz artist is fond of a multitude of horns, a lack of conventionalism, and a merging of what has been long considered a classic sound with vibrant, experimental, and brash creative risks. In tune with the current widespread, international cultural exploration of Afro-futurism, where it came from, and where it’s bound to take us all, his new full-length album, Ancestral Recall, breaks down and rebuilds to his liking the ways that African rhythm, African American tradition, and the long-underappreciated influence of the world’s underrepresented communities have not only affected, but driven music’s greater course throughout time. 


And he does it all without saying a word. At points, he invites others to speak, recite, sing, and rap poetic verse, but his only wield is his horn. For most, the ability to say so much without directly saying a thing would alone be the sign of a great artist – and there is no doubt that Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is that. But, he’s simultaneously much, much more. In the young artist’s long career, he has been working towards Ancestral Recall. Constantly examining and reinventing the tenants of jazz (see: Stretch Music), composition (see: his 2017 trio of albums: Ruler Rebel, Diaspora, & The Emancipation Proclamation), and art’s grander reach with the ethics in mind of that reach’s effects, he has developed a sound as refined as it is undefined, as direct as it is up for interpretation, and as important as any work from any artist in at least the past or the next two decades. 


Ancestral Recall is not a jazz album. It is in fact not definable under any existing or yet-to-come label where music historians have long misplaced influence, inspiration, and true origins. It is instead an exploration of the history of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s take on jazz with full immersion into the deeper influences that have gotten music to where it is in its current place in time. It celebrates music’s true roots, puts a pen to the history pages never written, and scrubs the necessity for the history pages too confidently celebrated. It is a raw, brash, and honest interpretation of jazz – an idealist vision of composition by someone who sees the faults in our own stories and instead chooses to write his own. It is an envisioning of jazz had its rightful course never been interfered with by politics and racism. And, it’s proof that through all of those trying times, the true artists, the true music, and the true origins will prevail. Under that flag flies an idea of unity that Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah knows to be possible only when music brings people together.


“The school I went to as a little boy was William Frantz Elementary School, the first desegregated elementary school in the country. I saw white and black families enduring food insecurity, being undereducated. The people had more in common than they had different. But they saw each other as nemeses, and reacted as such. The only place I didn’t see that happen was when music was being played. Part of the reason that I wanted to sink my teeth into music is that it was the only thing I saw in my community growing up that served as a unifying factor.”


Musically, Ancestral Recall asks a daring question: if only one be available, is harmony or rhythm more important?


We all know the answer, yet modern music is so fervently obsessed with melody and harmony and classical composition that we forget great works of music – in fact nearly all works of music – require a thorough understanding and bold usage of rhythm. The origins of that rhythm go deeper than anything else in music – and maybe even deeper than anything in art and culture altogether. Such a notion may seem a funny bit of direction from a trumpeter. But his undeniable horn burns eternally in hand with the expressly tribal, West African, and globally indigenous foundation upon which Ancestral Recall first and foremost emerges. And that’s the point. 


“We don’t talk about the fact that people have really belittling ideas about deeply rhythmic cultures. We don’t talk about how people believe that those cultures—and on one level, you might describe them as black and brown and tan musical cultures—are not as sophisticated, musically, as cultures that prioritize harmony and melody. The impetus of the sound and the album was, ‘How do I take the things that people look at as a pejorative about my musical culture, and show that those are actually the most sophisticated, most nuanced, most beautiful? And if you see that that’s the case, what does that mean for ideas that people hold about your culture, and about you?’”


It means that the same lines of racism are so deeply ingrained in our culture that they control the way we misunderstand music. But even the most bigoted of humans can’t control the way they hearmusic, and Ancestral Recall is a challenge to them. It’s a sophisticated and incredibly thought-out project that proves the nuances of rhythm are every bit as key as traditionally European tenants. And it’s a challenge to the present to continue its absurdist and boundless expanse of post-genre music by exploring the future of particularly percussive musical cultures hand in hand with what’s already been so thoroughly divulged.


“Most people are going to think what I’m talking about is only in the past. But when I use the word ‘ancestral,’ I don’t just mean what came before. We’re taught in the culture that I come from, the Black Indian culture of New Orleans, that you have the ability to channel or access not just what came behind you, but also what is coming. When I’m saying what I’m saying to you, it’s my great-great-grandfather and my great-great-grandson also speaking to you.”


That believed stance in manifestation is what removes Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s music from a two-dimensional plane and releases it upon timelines in all directions, leaving Ancestral Recall a project built upon a forgotten past and expectedly influential on a future always to be remembered.