Kendrick Scott Oracle returns with the release of A Wall Becomes A Bridge, an inspiring new 12-song cycle about overcoming obstacles both personal and collective. The album was produced by Derrick Hodge, and find’s Scott augmenting his long-running quintet with the addition of turntablist Jahi Sundance who joins guitarist Mike Moreno, pianist Taylor Eigsti, reedist John Ellis, and bassist Joe Sanders to expand Oracle’s palette.
Listen to a clip of the interview below in the latest episode of The ArkivJazz Podcast!
ArkivJazz: This is a tremendous project with a great band.
Kendrick Scott: Thank you so much.
AJ: The album is really built around bridges and walls, and both certainly are featured in the news a lot these days, for better or for worse. So, what were your objectives with this project…because it certainly seems to be a really beautiful listen from beginning to end.
KS: For me, the mantra surrounding A Wall Becomes A Bridge is pretty much optimism in the face of everything happening socially, with as much chaos as there is. I think we're thinking of walls as bad things, but I think that with those walls, there are provocations for us the to make them bridges. When I think of the current state in the U.S., I'm just trying to be a little bit more optimistic and hopefully this heightened awareness, and this heightened dialogue that we're going through around all these different issues will hopefully bring us to an area of unity even within our disagreements. We can find some common ground. Finding that tipping point where a wall can become a bridge is one of the things that started this project for me internally, because I have my own walls of fear and insecurity, and I think sometimes that other voices can help. I think sometimes the voices are guiding you in a way where it's just like, okay, let's be cautious about this, or stay away from this but let's go for this, and sometimes the negative voices can override everything that you're trying to do. So, this project is about that struggle, both social and personal. Derrick (Derrick Hodge, producer) came in and said, we’ve got to make some music about being in that place where you know that your voices are talking to you. They’re telling you that you're not good enough and are comparing you to other people and all those things. So, we wanted to look at the process of a wall becoming a bridge not only from it being a wall and then all of a sudden you break it down and it's this beautiful bridge, but if you listen to the record the record actually plays in reverse. The first piece that you hear is called “New Eyes,” which is about perspective because that's after the wall is broken down. After that, you go into “Mocean,” which is the breakthrough when the wall actually breaks down. If you look at the arrows and how the tracks are written, the arrows actually get smaller and smaller all the way down to the last track which is “Archangel.”
AJ: I was going to ask you about that. That’s a great bit of typography and you're obviously getting a signal there.
KS: Right, and within that, trying to approach things with optimism, we started the record at the end of the process. When I was brought up in church, they always used to tell me to pray like you've already gone through the storm and it's done. Just thank God just from the beginning, you know what I mean? That’s kind of what this is, you know, it's like we're in the storm now and we can rejoice already because we already know we're going to come through this. So, if we just start at the other end, where the wall has become a bridge, then we can look at everything with the different perspective of optimism. It's all personal for me and for each member of the band the way we play together, and in the way we take ownership of it. Each player took an element of what I brought in and expanded it in a way that I never thought we could do. That's definitely a wall becoming a bridge for me, because I give it to them and they plant the seed in a way that I never would have thought of planting. I think the bridge for humanity is just us reaching out to each other and saying, what do you think about this? So, that's what the record was about.
AJ: Also, it seems that you’re working with a group of people you're very comfortable with.
KS: Yeah, we've been together for some time.
AJ: I’m sure that allows you to certain amount of freedom to get out get out on the high board and see what happens with reducing the risk. How long did it take you to write the material?
KS: How long did it take me to write it? This is a really interesting question because I really don't know. I've been writing and not writing for years. It's one of those things where again I'll get up in the morning and write something and I literally say it's not good enough and stop writing it. Then, the next day I’ll start something else and say, oh that's not good enough. So, a lot of the session was me bringing in some of those sketches. Some of them were full songs and some were sketches, and Derrick said that we have to break through this wall and open up to everybody else interpreting the intent of what you want to happen with the music and then we can act on that. We had a chalkboard in the studio, and we were writing out the sentiments for each song. Like I said, “New Eyes” was about ‘perspective’, “Mocean” was about ‘breakthrough,’ and those and every other song had a sentiment. As we wrote those sentiments down we were finishing the songs in the studio compared to the sentiment. One of the sentiments was ‘acceptance,’ and so, what does that sound like? Do you see what I mean? So we were actually in a total mind state of intent even in even writing in the moment, which is really scary. That was a risk, but with my brothers, that was one of the most beautiful things that could have happened.
AJ: Well, it comes out as being incredibly well-formed. You guys did a lot of great sculpting and you have Joe Sanders on bass, Mike Moreno on guitar, yourself on drums, and John Ellis (sax), a man who I used to know who played with Charlie Hunter…
KS: Yes, sir.
AJ: He's an amazing reed player and you give him plenty of space to move. You’ve worked with him for a while, right?
KS: Oh yeah, John was one of the first people to give me a job when I came to New York City. We used to play at the Knitting Factory…I remember playing with John in this little bar at the bottom. John had faith in me before I even thought about having faith in myself. We've been playing together forever, me and Mike have been playing together since high school, me and Taylor for about 13 years and same with Joe…about 13 years. We have long-standing relationships in which we've all been playing together in other people's bands and have experienced each other in different settings. For some reason when we all got together something magical happened. I also attribute that to Derrick Hodge, who was playing bass in the band before. Derrick actually saw us play a show when he lived in L.A. I got Joe to play that date, which was on a live feed. Derrick watched that show, heard Joe play, and he said that Joe was the sound of the band. He said that he wanted Joe to play bass and that he wanted to produce. Ever since then, Derrick has been my secret weapon, and produced the last three records. He gives just the right amount of direction and freedom for everybody to be themselves. That’s what I love about the ownership of this band. Taylor is the engine of the band. Joe always knows how to take something that you give him and turn it on its head in a way that you didn't think about. Mike always allows us to have a certain sonic space in the bed that we can lay on. John in all of his reed knowledge, brings this huge balance of soulfulness and intellect. I just love every one of these guys.
AJ: How did you get hooked up with Jahi Sundance?
KS: Yeah, I got hooked up with Jahi through Robert Glasper. I had seen him before working with Glasper, and saw how his voice in particular was important to the overall sound. It’s because of the way he uses the electronics and the way he uses his voice on electronics. It’s very singular in that he uses his voice around the band and in the band setting instead of the band being on top of what he does, which is completely hard to do. What he does is inside of the group, and inside of what's happening. He’s responding in the moment, which is kind of hard for you to do and play the right things. When Derrick suggested that Jahi could make statements around what was happening, as soon as we added that it made everything coalesce.
AJ: Yeah, absolutely. I can hear that on this record and it’s a beautiful thing.
KS: Thank you so much.
AJ: It's an experience that begins, has a middle part, and ends…and everything really holds together well. How do you think you’ve grown from your time with Terence Blanchard up to now? Do you feel like you’ve grown artistically or have refined what you were going for within your own plane?
KS: Every day I'm growing in contentment of who I am as a person. Wayne Shorter has one of the best quotes…he said that music is but a drop of water in the ocean of life, and the more I think about that, the more and more I realize that music isn't about music. That’s really been one of the best things about getting older and having perspective and looking at things in a different way. I've become a better human being and I think that also makes me a better player. I think I've grown as a bandleader in that way, and as a drummer and composer. I think this album is specifically one of surrender where I had to literally surrender, because to me that wall was there and I was just going to keep it there [laughs]. I had to surrender and say let's take the snapshot. Making records is capturing a moment in time. Terence told me a long time ago when I was doing my first record, that you have to do your first record because you have to take that snapshot of yourself at that time. You’ll never be that age again. What happens is once you take that first Polaroid, you look back at it and say, wow, my hair was out of place and I look like I hadn’t slept in two days. Then you look at that snapshot of where you were, and you’re ready to make something new. Then, after that it makes you want to capture the next moment, which means you're moving forward and your body of work is too. You know that at the end of your life, there will be something to look back on. All I'm trying to do now is stay balanced.
AJ: Are you planning on touring the album?
KS: Yes, yes. We have some dates. Right now, we have Boston, Philly, and Brooklyn dates in April, and then we’ll be in Chicago, Denver, and Portland in May.
AJ: That cover is absolutely stunning. Did you come up with that or is that an artist you knew?
KS: Yes, Yashua Klos is artist in Brooklyn, and he does really amazing work. Jason Moran led me to Yashua's work and I told him that we have to do something together. I licensed that image because I fell in love with it and I encourage everybody to check out Yashua's work.
AJ: We’ll spread the word. It's really a kind of a jaw dropper. Well, we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.
KS: Thank you so much.