If Stretch Music had indulged in all its weird longings, it would have been one of 2015’s best albums.
Stretch Music might be the most appropriate title for an album this year. The genre in question here is jazz, but it’s stretched and mutated at all different angles and sides, stretched to its limits. Of course, that’s not surprising when the man behind the stretching has a few Edison awards kicking around his house and and education from the Berklee College of Music.
That doesn’t sell Christian Scott in quite the right way, though. It makes his work sound a bit too academic and sterile and, rest assured, it ain’t that. The trumpet master’s fluttering approach to jazz devours textures from hip-hop just as easily as it samples from Latin grooves.
The opening two tracks of Stretch Music are arguably his puttiest compositions. “Sunrise in Beijing” kicks off the album with a strange, vamping keyboard line that’s soon interrupted by a scattershot drum line that bounces off the inner ear in hypnotic fashion, always just about to go off tempo, but reeling and looping itself back over and over again. Scott, to make things even more confusing, lays down some of his smoothest work over the rattling percussion. Elena Pinderhughes’ flute work is the core of the melody, often mixing and melding with Scott’s own delicious playing. “Twin” is even weirder, as two horns play the exact same line over a clapping and clanking rhythm, except they’re just a bit off. It’s not even a full beat, just split seconds that separate the notes of the two different trumpets, causing another round of hallucinatory jazz that reaches a feverish climax quickly.
Stretch gives its two weirdest ambassadors first, allowing Scott to slow things down a bit. The late night meditation of “Perspectives” has a glistening vibe that conjures up images of a rain filled city in the wee small hours of the morning. “Liberation Over Gangsterism” is another Scott and Pinderhughes duet, nearly as charming as the first. There’s also the trap biting “Tantric” and the calming closing romp of “The Horizon.”
Where Stretch Music runs into problems is where it doesn’t stretch enough. You can’t just start off with two of the most engaging and strange jazz tracks of the year and just fade out afterward! The longer tracks in particular have a tendency to float toward well-treaded territory. Many of the guitar parts of Stretch Music seem a bit perfunctory, especially in “West of the West.” In addition, two pointless interludes, “The Corner” and “Runnin in 7’s,” interject on the general flow of the album. They only last two minutes, tops, but they seem like leftover ideas that might have fit better on a b-sides compilation.
Don’t let any of this take away from Scott’s playing of compositional chops. Even on the overwrought (and eight-minute long) “West of the West,” Scott delivers a ferocious solo that would even have Kamasi Washington bowing. “Of a New Cool” is the one long track that works in all aspects and it is mainly due to Scott’s ability to make an intricate line sound as cooling as a summer breeze.
If Stretch Music had indulged in all its weird longings, it would have been one of 2015’s best albums. As of now, it stands as a solid jazz record with enough stretchiness to (hopefully) keep Scott experimenting.