Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is steadily morphing into an elder statesman — but one who continues to stretch. The 32-year-old trumpeter — who adopted his Ghanian names four years ago, but is still often called by his given name professionally — returns to his alma mater, Berklee College of Music, to open the Beantown Jazz Festival at Berklee’s 939 Cafe on Friday. (A full day of free outdoor performances follows on Saturday, along Columbus Avenue between Massachusetts Avenue and Burke Street.) Scott will be celebrating a new album, “Stretch Music (Introducing Elena Pinderhughes),” and the event will be recorded for subsequent airing on NPR’s “Jazz Night in America.”
The album, recorded in January at Berklee’s new Mass. Avenue studio complex, comes out Friday on his own new imprint, Stretch Music, distributed by the hip, genre-mixing label Ropeadope. Also new is a Stretch Music app, which renders the label’s music interactive for student use. Both label and app result from Scott’s insistence on exerting greater control of his business interests.
“You can make a huge argument for artists actually being the labor class in the record business,” he explains via telephone from his hometown of New Orleans, where he now splits his time with his more recent digs in Harlem. “That’s something that has to stop immediately. I’m doing what needs to happen to build resources for these younger artists that are coming up, so that they don’t have to go through the things that I went through.”
Meanwhile, there’s his old business of being a bandleader. Scott is becoming a star maker in the Miles Davis or Art Blakey mold, as necessitated by the need to replace band members who leave to pursue projects of their own. Scott’s longtime guitarist Matthew Stevens is the latest departure, having left to promote his own new album, “Woodwork,” and to back another onetime Scott band member, Esperanza Spalding, on her latest project. Replacing Stevens is the band’s newest member, 17-year-old New Orleanian Dominic Minix.
And then there’s the 20-year-old singer and flutist, a Manhattan School of Music junior, whose name is parenthetically part of the new album’s title. Scott is quick to point out his high regard for the rest of the band, all of whom, save Minix, had already been featured on significant recording projects, rendering them ineligible to be “introduced” on this one. Pinderhughes, for that matter, had appeared on two tracks of Ambrose Akinmusire’s critically lauded 2014 album, “The Imagined Savior Is Easier to Paint.” Scott clearly expects big things from her.
“The first time I heard her play I knew she was a special character,” he says, “and, given the right platform and the space, I really feel like people won’t remember what the flute sounded like before her. She’s just that great, and I wanted to do everything that I can to make sure that people know that’s how I feel about her talent.”
Pinderhughes and her pianist elder brother, Samora, sat in with Scott’s band twice before she was asked to join it, the second time at New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club, where her performance on the leader’s tune “Danziger” was so powerful it provoked tears from Kiel Scott, Christian’s filmmaker identical twin. Pinderhughes, already a fan, was similarly impressed with Scott’s band. “It was an amazing experience to play with them,” she recalls, “because that band plays with an incredible amount of fire, an incredible amount of drive.”
Her eclectic musical tastes — old school R&B and soul, hip-hop, and so on — mesh with Scott’s stretch music concept, based on musicians having access to sounds from over the globe in the Internet age. Pinderhughes’s knowledge of Afro-Cuban music — she studied music in Cuba as a 7- and 8-year-old while her college professor parents taught there — fits especially well with Scott’s grounding in the African rhythmic traditions of New Orleans, a fact further enhanced by a two-drum lineup in which Joe Dyson joins the existing rhythm section (pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Kris Funn, drummer Corey Fonville) on a hybrid “Pan-African” kit. Braxton Cook rounds out the front line on alto sax.
Scott’s music is stretching, too. The new album is more focused than the sprawling two-disc effort that preceded it (“Christian aTunde Adjuah”), yet arguably more varied in its moods and influences. But he hasn’t stopped referencing social issues in his music, in tunes like “Danziger” and “Dred Scott” on the double disc or his earlier “K.K.P.D.” (a reference to New Orleans police officers threatening Scott that if he didn’t quit arguing with them, his mother would be picking him up at the morgue). The titles may be more oblique, the focus sometimes farther from home, but Scott’s social consciousness remains prominent. The opening track is a good case in point.
“ ‘Sunrise in Beijing’ is composed about the fact that the carbon emissions in Beijing are so bad you can’t see the sun,” Scott notes. “People have had to erect towers all over the city so they can see the sunrise, which really feels like something out of a science fiction novel. So yeah, the titles may not be as pointed as they were earlier on, [but] those dynamics are still very much in the music.”Bill Beuttler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.