Coming off his ambitious 2017 trilogy (Rebel Ruler, Diaspora, and the Grammy-nominated Emancipation Proclamation), trumpeter Christian Scott delivers yet another ambitious, cross-pollinated epic with 2019's Ancestral Recall. Along with producing and playing a cadre of distinctively named brass instruments (among them his reverse-flügelhorn, Siren, and Sirenette), Scott also plays pretty much every other instrument here, including keyboards, synth bass, synth percussion, and what he calls "sonic architecture." That enigmatic term most likely refers to the overall production, but could easily describe the genre-defying music Scott has crafted on Ancestral Recall. Thematically, the album feels like a companion piece to his 2012 album, Christian aTunde Adjuah (his adopted West African name), as he continues to make broad musical and cultural connections. Helping him make these connections are a handful of well-curated collaborators including forward-thinking alt-R&B singer Saul Williams, flutist Elena Pinderhughes, saxophonist Logan Richardson, and percussionist/singer Weedie Braimah. Also contributing are several percussionists in Amadou Kouyate, Themba Mkhatshwa, and Munir Zake Richard, who add a tactile, kinetic layer of African drum rhythms that inform much of the compositional ideas at play on the album. Based in jazz but encompassing a variety of stylistic touchstones from literate, Bowie-esque post-rock ("I Own the Night") to ambient improvisation ("Diviner [Devan]") and downtempo soundscapes ("Overcomer"), Ancestral Recall is one of the trumpeter's most difficult-to-classify albums, which doesn't mean it's difficult to enjoy. Certainly, much of the album is steeped in an astral-projected, avant-garde atmosphere that brings to mind Miles Davis and Don Cherry's '70s fusion and world music albums. That said, there's a breezy simplicity to many of these songs, as if Scott did not belabor their construction, but instead recorded them in fits of organic inspiration. Much of the time, as on the aforementioned "I Own the Night," it feels as if Scott recorded his percussionists first, then looped the beat, and finally overlaid the song on top of that, framing singer Saul Williams' urgent half-spoken baritone croon with shimmering space-synth and searing, grindstone trumpet wails. Conversely, on the romantic "Forevergirl," Scott offers muted trumpet sighs against a swooning melody sung by Chris Turner and Mike Larry Draw as a warm, acoustic bass ostinato rubs dichotomously against a brisk, jungle drum'n'bass-style beat. Elsewhere, tracks like "The Shared Stories of Rivals [Keita]" and "Double Consciousness" are all woozy, cosmic atmospherics as Scott overdubs his horns and Pinderhughes' celestial flute over earthy rhythms. Similarly evocative, "Ritual (Rise of Chief Adjuah)" finds the trumpeter riding a wave of breathy synth and African percussion as his horn crackles like sunlight through dark clouds. Ancestral Recall is a stylistically and culturally dynamic album borne out of Scott's deep awareness of his New Orleans roots and African American history, and his ability to push his forward-thinking post-bop skills into musical traditions far beyond jazz. However, the real revelation is that the album also manages to feel intensely personal, imbued throughout with a deep sensuality and romantic creative vision that feels distinctly his own.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar