The second offering from the Kendrick Scott Oracle on Blue Note may be motivated by a different inspiration than its predecessor, 2015's wonderful We Are the Drum, but shares its aesthetic. The "we" in the earlier album's title connects with Scott's motivation on A Wall Becomes a Bridge: his stated intention is to confront the fears and insecurities that hold us back individually and keep us from engaging collectively. In the run-up to the album, Scott was initially frustrated, unsatisfied with the dearth of ideas he had for new music. Producer Derrick Hodge, one of Scott's oldest friends and collaborators, cannily suggested documenting that struggle musically, confronting the subterranean emotional issues by creating art in direct response to them.
A Wall Becomes a Bridge is a thematic record that traverses 12 stages on a path -- framing two compositions each in reverse progression. The Oracle's personnel -- pianist Taylor Eigsti, John Ellis on reeds and winds, bassist Joe Sanders, and guitarist Mike Moreno -- have been together since 2013, and it shows in the manner of respect, deference, and support they provide one another. The addition of turntablist DJ Jahi Sundance adds texture and ambience to half the set's cuts; he emphasizes and extrapolates on the sophisticated musical ideas displayed. First single "Mocean" is a stellar example of what KSO is capable of. A lithe, slightly euphoric theme introduced by Eigsti and Moreno with Scott's snares and cymbals underneath them flows through a series of notes and phrases, adding and subtracting from them as it unfolds, and the entire band becomes assertive. Over nearly six minutes, Scott layers modal statements -- individually and in unison -- on top of one another to unveil the tender lyricism at its heart, outlined by fine solos from the pianist and Ellis' serpentine soprano horn. Hodge adds wordless vocals to the dignified and powerful "Voices." Introduced by Scott and Eigsti, its lyric phrase is delivered by Ellis on bass clarinet, striking euphoric guitar figures are emphasized by Scott's rolling tom-toms and cymbal washes, and Eigsti, Sanders, and Ellis' bass clarinet assert the melody while Sundance colors the margins with samples and ambient effects. "Catalyst" is melodic post-bop with Scott double-timing the band on snare and dropping breaks as Moreno delivers an elegant solo followed by the extrapolated, expansive chords of Eigsti, Ellis' tenor break, and a pulsing bassline. The set closes with "Archangel," one of the most strikingly beautiful tunes Scott has ever penned. Eigsti and Moreno develop the graceful theme as Sanders' and Scott's rhythmic accents frame it. The drummer's wordless vocals duet with Ellis' alto flute, culminating in a shift to airy Brazilian-flavored jazz that carries it out on a high note. This band understands Scott's musical and philosophical personas; they open themselves to his struggles and questions and share their own inside the tunes, thereby illuminating them. As a result, A Wall Becomes a Bridge is subtle yet quietly stunning. It is the sound of struggle transformed into beauty.