Nick Bollinger lends an ear to the reflective raps of Tom Scott in his new jazz-based project.
It’s a decade now since a young rapper from Avondale first garnered attention with a variant of hip-hop that relocated the music in Auckland’s western suburbs. The name of his group was Home Brew; his rhymes were quick, witty, occasionally anti-social, but recognisably and unapologetically local.
Like any young person with a lively mind and a big mouth, Tom Scott sometimes got himself into trouble.
But the first thing that strikes me about his latest album is – unexpectedly - its maturity.
That is apparent right from the opening track, which swaps out the traditional beats and samples for the sophisticated sound of a jazz band, which turns out to be the dominant mode of the album.
But the strongest evidence of growth is in Scott’s words. This is no longer the stroppy, cocky twenty-something of Home Brew, but rather a young father, now in his early thirties, taking stock of his past, assessing the present and looking towards the future.
In ‘Years Gone By’ Scott runs through the chronology of his life, picking out dates and details, while keeping in metrical step with the busy but fluid drumming of Julien Dyne.
As Scott alludes to in some of these lyrics, his own father was – in fact still is - a jazz musician, which helps explain Scott’s assuredness in these swinging settings. It’s no stretch to say that vocally he’s become a kind of jazz soloist. With his polyrhythmic rhyming, he comfortably holds his own among the top-flight musicians here.
Around the start of this project, Scott returned to New Zealand having lived in Melbourne for several years, and absence seems to have focussed his memory in strong sensory depictions of the places he grew up, while coming home has heightened his attention to the changes that have gone down.
Then there is his recent plunge into parenthood, which hangs like a backdrop behind the whole thing, but which he addresses directly and sensitively in the track he calls ‘Quincy’s March’.
With a self-deprecation that would once have seemed out of character, Scott has referred to this album as ‘irrelevant jazz from an island nation off the coast of Antarctica’, but he surely knows that’s far from the truth. Avantdale Bowling Club is a powerful, personal, deeply musical piece of work. The musicians here have long since assimilated their offshore influences and made those a part of their own voice. As for Scott, the voice I hear is mature, reflective, and cautiously hopeful.