"Everyone evolves," Christian Scott says. "Eventually you step into different spaces." The prolific, Grammy Award-nominated jazz artist (and graduate of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Berklee College of Music) has developed a genreless elasticity, and his critically acclaimed 2015 breakthrough Stretch Music spans hip-hop, psychedelic soul and atmospheric electronics. Scott doesn't melt them together into a shapeless, liquid pool — they're bricked together like a beautifully warped sculpture.
Scott's latest expression merges elements of trap music — lethal pops from Roland TR-808 drum machines and SPD-SX percussive sample pads — as a gateway to younger audiences outside the often-insular jazz scene, challenging them to hear "what this music actually has to offer and try to dispel this notion that the best jazz has already happened."
"It's kind of an absurd notion," he says. "If you want to step towards them and build a bridge, you have to be willing to meet people where they frequent... It's the type of music I listen to in a certain social space. It captivates me and has a value to me — it's not like something that's purely contrived as like a conceptual thing. I listen to it as part of my daily diet of music."
On Stretch Music, skittering drum samples seem to trip over a trumpet and flute duet on "Sunrise in Beijing" and spare 808 snaps shroud a smoke-filled "Tantric" — paired with the album's live drums and arrangements, Scott links his shapeshifting jazz palette to its lineage of African and Caribbean rhythms, all propelling Scott's lines, as lyrical, patient and melodic as they are unpredictable.
Stretch Music's introduction carried with it Scott's written manifesto and mission statement regarding his concept for "stretch music": "This is what you will hear on our recordings; a stretching of jazz, not a replacement. And this is what I hope younger people will be able to take away from it as well: the idea that innovation should never be regarded as a problem in artistic practice, that one should always be aware of what has come before, and finally, that criticisms shouldn't evoke paralysis, they should inspire action."
"Traditionally I'm dissatisfied with sounds in general," he says. "I hold the notion I can either expand what's already been contributed or find new modes of operating, in terms of a communal dialogue we're working on musically."
Scott — nephew of saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. and grandson of the Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. — jokes that after years as the wunderkind teenager, he's now the old man (he's 33). He surrounds himself with younger, fresher players, mirroring the changing lineups of artists like Art Blakey and Miles Davis. "They were able to tap the younger, developing and up-and-coming artists and help them refine what it was they were trying to put together for their generation and for themselves," Scott says. "It ends up feeding the music in a different way, too. You're not dealing with folks who have encroached into the space artistically, where they think they know better or are fighting the idea of change because they're set in their own way. ... If I say, 'let's hear what that phrase sounds like if we play it in reverse,' they're just as interested in hearing what that sounds like as I am. My natural mode of operating is more of an exploratory stance."
Fresh from rehearsals and the studio, Scott plans to premiere stretch music's next chapter at Jazz Fest, complete with dueling drummers (including Joe Dyson's "pan-African, West African trap drumset").
"You're going to hear the new sound in creative improvised music," Scott says. "Anyone interested in hearing in what is at the forefront of what's happening creatively right now, they should definitely bring their butts down there and get a taste."
• Colin Lake