With the 2007 release of The Source - his debut recording as a leader - drummer and composer Kendrick Scott established a reputation right out of the gate as an explorer, someone with a generous measure of wisdom and insight to counterbalance his youth and newcomer status.
Nearly six years later, Scott and his band continue to dig beneath the surface to find the deeper truths in Conviction, their new CD scheduled for release on Concord Jazz. As the title suggests, Conviction is the vehicle by which Kendrick and company look past the mundane and examine the motivating forces that propel us through life, even in those times when the greater truths are obscured by the tedium of the everyday.
"The first record was almost like a potluck project," says Kendrick, who has developed associations with numerous high-profile jazz figures in the decade since his emergence from the Berklee scene in 2003. "There were so many of my friends and people whom I love to play with, and I wanted to have them all in one place on that record. But Conviction is something different. I wanted to make this more of a band statement. This current lineup of the band just molded itself around this music, and then took it in all different kinds of direction at the same time. It all came together so easily and so well."
The streamlined version of Oracle on the new recording includes saxophonist and bass clarinetist John Ellis, guitarist Mike Moreno (the only member to also appear on The Source) pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Joe Sanders. Guest vocalist and guitarist Alan Hampton makes appearances on two tracks.
"These guys create a totally different vibe from the band on the previous album," says Scott. "They bring something that has definitely added to my writing. The way they interpret my compositions is exactly the way I want them to be interpreted. I provide them with just a few elements and ideas to get started, and then they take it wherever they feel it should be taken - which always turns out the be a good place."
The album plays as a continuous and seamless stream of music with no breaks between tracks, the net result being an atmospheric soundscape rather than a series of individual tracks. The set opens with Scott's nod to his gospel roots in a traditional prayer in which seeks to be an instrument of peace, faith, hope and love. The prayer segues immediately into the shimmering "Pendulum, which showcases the captivating solo work of saxophonist John Ellis atop the solid foundation set up by Taylor Eigsti on piano and the full-bodied rhythm section of Scott and Sanders.
"Pendulum," originally performed by UK indie electronic band Broadcast, moves seamlessly into a melodic cover of avant popster Sufjan Stevens' "Too Much," a song propelled by Hampton's intriguing vocals and a lurching backbeat that forces the listener to engage and come along for the ride.
Scott and company deliver an expertly rendered cover of Herbie Hancock's "I Have a Dream," which morphs directly into a short and quiet - but nonetheless intense - solo bass track entitled "We Shall Overcome By Any Means." The haunting "Liberty Or Death" is built on a simple four-note piano riff that escalates to near-crescendo proportions midway through its near seven-minute run time.
The title track, written by Derrick Hodge (also the co-producer on Conviction), is built on a piano/bass/drum configuration that dances around any clearly defined rhythmic pocket, yet establishes a unique groove nonetheless.
In the final stretch, "Serenity" once again features the vocals of Alan Hampton. The following track "Be Water," includes an opening monologue by legendary martial arts master and philosopher Bruce Lee that encourages a shapeless, fluid approach to the creative process rather than adherence to any concrete style. "Be water, my friend," he intones more than once, as the track segues into a piece of music that is just that - fluid, flowing, energetic and crystal clear.
The closer, "Memory of Enchantment," is a gentle solo piano piece crafted with plenty of breathing space between the notes and a poignant melody that briefly conjures a sense of urgency but ultimately instills a sense of closure and peace.
"Just like the title suggests, I'd like this album to encourage people to consider their own convictions," says Scott. "We can live day to day and not really think about what our greater purpose is in this lifetime. What inspires me most about life are the opportunities we have to create and evolve. At any given moment, it's our knowledge - and unfortunately, sometimes our lack of knowledge - that informs everything we do. And in those actions, if we're wise enough to recognize it, there's a quiet understanding that whatever we do has a purpose. With that understanding comes a sense of conviction. This record is my way of trying to give more thought to the things that I sometimes take for granted. Hopefully, I can take the listener on that same journey of self-discovery."