The COVID-19 pandemic was just arriving in Boston when Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his band performed at Scullers on March 7. The next week they hit the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York for several nights of performances; like most musicians, they haven’t performed live again since.
But Scott has nonetheless appeared on a trio of projects over the past week. Last Friday, he released “Axiom,” the supercharged live album his band recorded during that final week at the Blue Note.
Last Friday was also release day for “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” the third of the goofy science fiction comedies starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. Scott has a cameo in the movie — blink and you’ll miss it, but that’s him in his now familiar Afro-Futuristic garb playing a noble in the Future Council — and he arranges and performs the trumpet parts for a young Louis Armstrong (played by Jeremiah Craft), who is among the towering figures from music history that Bill and Ted’s daughters, Billie and Thea, recruit via time travel to help their dads create the song that will save the world.
And this weekend, the Blue Note website will be streaming the last of the live sets that made it onto Scott’s new album, with three airings spread over Friday night and Saturday morning (to better accommodate fans in Los Angeles and Tokyo).
“We didn’t want to leave without finishing the job,” recalls Scott by phone from LA. “It ended up sounding amazing. You can hear what Weedie [Braimah, on djembe and congas] did, and Elena [Pinderhughes, on flute], playing on this record. It’s just really mind-blowing stuff.”
Scott stressed the difference between the studio versions of previously recorded songs and what was documented live. “Those last few records, most of the stuff is me playing. It’s conversational, but the dialogue doesn’t exist in the same way,” he says. “What’s really great about how this album comes together is [that it] created a mix and a balance that literally make it feel like you’re standing in my position on the bandstand.”
Scott himself won’t be on any bandstands for a while, but he was planning on taking half a year or so off from touring anyway after the Blue Note run.
“I’ve toured pretty consistently since I was about 14 years old,” he explains. “I had never taken a break.” He already had several albums recorded and ready for release, including a double album titled “Bark Out Thunder, Roar Out Lightning” slated for summer 2021. “My lady was just like, ’Maybe you should take a break before you jump into putting all this stuff out.’ ”
Scott, 37, was already in a better position than most to take a break and get through the pandemic. In May he won a Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, a $75,000 prize given annually to five “risk-taking mid-career artists” working in dance, film/video, music, theater, and visual arts.
But an extended break from work is a relative thing for Scott. He was tickled to be asked to participate in the “Bill & Ted” movie, having dreamt of being the one to write the world-saving song himself after seeing the earlier “Bill & Ted” movies as a child. While he’s away from the stage, he has those backed-up recordings to prepare for production, an updated version of his Stretch Music app (which allows student musicians to perform along with his band) in the pipeline, and a relationship with the Ropeadope record label that he continues to build.
And he has his new album to promote. Aside from the covers of existing material, “Axiom” introduces new songs dedicated to the resilience of his mother and other New Orleanian women (“Huntress”) and to his maternal grandfather (“Incarnation”). His grandfather and uncle, the saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., are also celebrated in a live version of “The Last Chieftain,” a tune that produced a long spoken tribute to Donald Sr. when Scott last performed it at Scullers.
Scott is an accomplished storyteller onstage, and the live album includes one such tale, when he describes how a bad experience moving to an apartment on Sunset Boulevard in LA led to his writing “West of the West,” a song with echoes of 1970s-era Miles Davis, partly owing to the work of Lawrence Fields on Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Scott and Fields met as students at Berklee College of Music, and Fields joined Scott’s longtime core rhythm section just behind bassist Kris Funn about a decade ago. (Corey Fonville wanted to join on drums while still in his mid-teens, but Scott made him wait — a story Scott sometimes tells in introducing the band.)
Fields has been riding out the pandemic in New Jersey. He says that knowing something like this might be coming made those final Blue Note sets unique.
“Even when we went there,” Fields recalls, “a call went out to everyone to say, ‘Hey, is everyone comfortable doing this in the first place?’ Everyone agreed to do it, but when we stepped out onto the stage we felt like, ’Wow, we’re in the middle of something really uncertain.’ I think that gig had an additional level of urgency.”
He remembers thinking, “This might be the last night of us playing together for a while.”
“And that was incredibly emotional,” Fields says. “I remember going onstage, especially the last couple nights, and thinking I’m just so happy to be with these people.”
“We had to deal with all of the COVID kind of crises, energy that week,” says Scott. “So there’s a bunch of stuff where we got everything recorded, but there were moments where [the recording engineers] neglected on certain nights to activate the microphones that were in the house. So you’d play a burning solo and then it’s like — a silence, right?”
“On this record is the night where they actually had some of those things active, so that the crowd engagement, you can hear what the actual relationship was,” Scott adds. “But I think for that reason the album has an energy that you could never get in another live record, just because of what was going on.”
The live Blue Note set streams Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. and Saturday at 7 a.m. Tickets $15. www.bluenotelive.com/eventsold/christian-scott