Christian aTunde Adjuah turns up the intensity at Bohemian Caverns
By Michael J. West,
The artist formerly known as Christian Scott (he now answers to the self-chosen name of Christian aTunde Adjuah) is a passionate player. Not angry, necessarily — though sometimes the jazz trumpeter is exactly that — but intense, emotional and visceral. He’s a 29-year-old musician with a social conscience that he gives free rein over his art, which was readily on display Thursday night at Bohemian Caverns in the District.
A native of New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, Adjuah is still driven by rage rooted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The opener for his second set, “Danziger,” is named for and inspired by the bridge that New Orleans police infamously blocked from pedestrians. It’s a track from Adjuah’s self-titled 2012 album, but in performance his feelings are much rawer and more palpable than on the often ponderous recording. He and alto saxophonist Louis Fouchet imbued the melody with real dimensions: those of senselessness, tragedy and grief. So, too, did pianist Lawrence Fields, who played a thoroughly jazzy solo with such soul and directness that Adjuah found himself shouting encouragement.
Elsewhere, the rhythm section did the heavy lifting. Fields joined bassist Kris Funn and drummer Jamire Williams (possibly the finest young players of their instruments in jazz today) in creating a propulsive but melancholy groove on “vs. the Kleptocratic Union.” Funn, especially, was astonishing, with a careful but confident staccato that ratcheted up the tension with every passing measure; even when vamping, he managed to turn the repetitions into suspense. Guitarist Matthew Stevens augmented them with stirring, thoughtful lines that were less tense than labored and wounded, as on the unnamed third tune and Adjuah and Funn’s frustrated “Who They Wish I Was” (an allusion, Adjuah explained, to the tiresome comparisons he hears of himself to Miles Davis).
These passions came to a head on the closer, “Jihad Joe,” inspired by the war in Iraq. On the album, the tune is a moody, slow-to-medium number, but in concert the band played it at double speed and with burning intensity. Stevens played with an even keel but with blindingly fast fingerings, then yielded to a Fields solo that was determined not to let the fast tempo get the better of it. Adjuah, meantime, gave a dizzying performance that led back to his furious interpretation of the theme. Like the rest of the set, less heart-on-sleeve expressions found no quarter there.
West is a freelance writer.