It has been six years since drummer Kendrick Scott and his band Oracle released their debut, The Source. On Conviction, only guitarist Mike Moreno remains. The rest of the lineup is filled out by John Ellis on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, bassist Joe Sanders, and Taylor Eigsti on piano and Fender Rhodes. The set was produced by Derrick Hodge of the Robert Glasper Experiment. Nearly half the program is devoted to original compositions; the balance is made up of carefully chosen, wide-ranging covers. Conviction isn't a showcase for Scott's drumming skills, though he is clearly the leader -- evidence of his kit work is right up front in this crystalline mix. These tracks are sequenced to run seamlessly; the changes are always signaled by Sanders' bassline. "Pendulum" is an all but unrecognizable version of a tune by indie electronic band Broadcast. Moreno's shimmering guitar is the only electric instrument here, but in Scott's arrangement, the music winds around the original's one-note pulse, never quite touching it until the bridge. Then it milks it by extrapolating on numerous themes and rhythmic shifts and creating a lithe post-bop number from the skeleton. It's followed by a relatively straightforward cover of Sufjan Stevens' "Too Much," with vocals by Alan Hampton, that relies heavily on the hook as a rhythmic device. Sanders' bassline ushers in a gorgeous reading of Herbie Hancock's rather obscure "I Have a Dream," with fine solos by the bassist and Moreno. Scott's "Liberty or Death" has Eigsti repetitively quoting a four-note vamp by Nirvana as the band pulls it apart a stitch at a time, until what remains is a wide-open song without a fixed melody. Jazz-funk -- by way of Scott's break-drenched, forceful drumming -- is evidenced in the jumper "Cycling Through Reality." The title track was written by Hodge. It features an angular yet warm melody with beautiful ostinato from Eigsti and intricate contrapuntal playing by Ellis, Moreno, and Scott. "Be Water" samples the disembodied voice of Bruce Lee. Its moody, near ambient intro very gradually gives way to a pronounced, languid melody that engages each member of the band in a textural and dynamic shift that builds into something that weds modal and post-bop (with a killer head-to-head between Ellis and Moreno). The beautiful "Serenity" was co-written by Hampton and Scott, lending an unusual yet compelling flair for song form to the proceedings. Conviction is a strong, ambitious effort. Its compositions and arrangements create a musical and spiritual dialogue between the recent past and historical present, and solidly point toward jazz's future.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek