Some artists feel obligated to put out a new record every one-point-three years, or whatever their factory warranty calls for (mileage may vary). Others are more interested in quality than quantity. On her first record since Standard Blue (Prana, 2017), jazz vocalist Marilyn Scott has something to say about The Landscape. More than the title track, Scott’s concerns with our landscape is the scope and focus of seven original compositions, all co-written with pianists Russell Ferrante or Scott Kinsey. Scott voices her concerns with climate change, apathy, and the injustice of it all in a mostly positive and upbeat manner. Her pride and joy in nature’s wonders are awash with genuineness and come to life quite naturally. As the antithesis, it makes her emotionally sincere words elevate and penetrate that much more.
Scott has flirted with Adult-Contemporary, batted her eyes at Pop, and swiveled a hip towards R&B, but has always been a jazz singer at heart. That worked out well since here she was surrounded by a contingency of jazz titans. Vinnie Colaiuta and Gary Novak shared the drum chair, creating a tight rhythm section with bassist Jimmy Haslip. Two upper echelon guitarists, Steve Khan and Michael Landau, were on board. Among others, saxophonists Katisse Buckingham and Steve Tavaglione were in the mix as well.
“thrown out Into space, butterfly,” is a trippy experience that illustrates just how overwhelming all the many concerns and injustices have become. Scott is spinning out of control in a universe that no longer seems to make sense. Kinsey’s intergalactic keyboards cleverly create the ambiance, while a free-jazz soprano sax solo from Tavaglione put the tune on the axis of jazz and fusion.
As if to say, “now that I have your attention,” Scott jumped into “The Landscape.” She emphasized both the beauty and purity of nature, as well as the dark side. Kinsey’s sharp piano run brought the punch, as Scott sang of everything we hold dearly in good times and that can be daunting in bad. Novak was joined by Logan Kane on acoustic bass, who brought a buoyancy to the sound. “The Landscape” is a true title track, as it set the agenda for the entire record. Scott made it crystal clear that the landscape is much more than just mountains and trees. It’s the people that we meet, the lives that we live, the things that we do (or don’t do). It’s everything.
There is something about the feel of a “Summer Night.” That warm sensibility was embraced by Scott and Ferrante’s trio, which is made up of acoustic bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Schaeffer. The trio’s breezy melodicism embraced Scott’s endearing words about the stars in the sky, the serenity of it all, and the relatability of precious moments we should not take for granted.
Now nice and relaxed. perhaps we are ready to receive Scott’s boldest piece. With climate change firmly in mind, Scott described California’s desert oasis with stunningly vivid accuracy as she traveled down Highway 111. “We are responsible, for the ‘Irreplaceable,'” she states more with heart than scold. One of nature’s serene gifts to the landscape, the Salton Sea may come to mind as a horrendous example of man-made disaster. “We are responsible, for the ‘Irreplaceable,’ now haunting us with its stark reality. This epic piece is equally powerful musically. Colaiuta and Haslip fervently exchanged in a series of changes, with Kinsey and Ferrante both on board, having shared this co-write with Scott. Landau made his only appearance on the record, and, man, did he make it count. One solo after another, each gaining in intensity and complexity. As Scott’s passion rises to further heights, Landau pushed and escalated, merging with Scott at every turn. Absolutely a thing of beauty.
“Tomorrow” is more subtle than the hard-hitting wake up call of “Irreplaceable.” It would pretty much have to be. While Scott may have hinted at the promise of tomorrow, she more questioned why does it always have to be tomorrow? Climate change is real, why such apathy? Haslip played his fretless with conviction, again grooving with Colaiuta, a longtime rhythm section partner. Buckingham’s soprano sax solo tied a bow around a nice piece of jazz.
Scott chose to move on to the glory of the landscape and the reasons why we should not take it for granted. She suggested that we “Unzip,” unwind, unpack, our minds. Yes, it’s a day at the beach, replete with the ocean air, the blue waves, and basking in the sunshine. Percussionist Alex Acuña, along with Jeff Myers on congas, joined Cuban drummer Jimmy Branly in bringing a Latin vibe to the beach party. The only thing missing was an ice cold cerveza.
Branly and Acuna stayed on board for the last tune, an omen to “The Sun.” The four Perri Sisters were added to bring a large vocal presence in honoring the power of “The Sun.” Khan joined in on the finale and brought his natural understated beauty and mastery of his guitar. Scott reveled in “precious heavenly moments living for the sun, and being with the people who make it fun.” Ferrante’s sweet sound engaged Scott’s lyrics of “open arms to the sun, feel so good, we are as one.” She left us with the positivity of “the sunset will make us whole.”
Scott’s thirteenth studio record as a leader is well worth the five year wait. She has a strong connection with these great musicians. Some of them— Ferrante, Colaiuta and—Haslip played with her all the way from the beginning, back to her first album, Dreams of Tomorrow (Atco Records, 1979), and played with her on her first tour. It can be a slippery slope trying to deliver a record with a social conscience that also has fun and implements strong jazz sensibilities. Scott and company have succeeded with aplomb.
thrown out into space, butterfly; The Landscape; Summer Night; Irreplaceable; Tomorrow; Unzip; The Sun.