If Conviction is an examination of character—including the famous ones of Malcolm X and St. Francis of Assisi—drummer-composer Kendrick Scott’s own personality proves thoughtful and mellow, without sacrificing intensity. The second album by Scott’s quintet Oracle is as beautiful as its 2007 debut, The Source. It’s also more mature: a streamlined, through-conceived statement from a musician with something to say.
Scott’s drums, here more concerned with color than beat, are often muted in attack and in the mix—a marked departure from his pyrotechnics with Terence Blanchard. That restraint is Conviction’s core value, self-consciously so. Indeed, the two tunes with the most stridently convicted titles, “We Shall Overcome by Any Means” and “Liberty or Death,” are the two gentlest: the former a short solo by bassist Joe Sanders at almost imperceptible volume, the latter a rippling meditation dominated by John Ellis’ bass clarinet and tenor saxophone.
Pianist Taylor Eigsti and guitarist Mike Moreno, though, most reflect this vibe of purposeful understatement. Both are capable of great energy—as they demonstrate on “Cycling Through Reality”—but here prefer delicate, undulating single-note lines, often in tandem (“Conviction,” “Be Water”), that create a tranquil ebb-and-flow effect. As if to prove the point, Eigsti closes the album with the solo “Memory of Enchantment,” a tender, fond reverie.
Still and all, the vision is Scott’s, and all the more remarkable for maintaining its passion. Even moments like the light waltz of “Apollo” and Alan Hampton’s flamenco-esque acoustic guitar and relaxed vocal on “Serenity” radiate with genuine emotion, belying their quietude and revealing a fully developed artist. It’s a wondrous achievement.