Much has changed since a teenage Terence Blanchard replaced Wynton Marsalis in the trumpet chair of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. It was the early 1980s and record labels were hoovering up the young, technically gifted and largely African-American leaders of the so-called jazz resurgence, and prime movers like Blanchard were strutting the pages of Time magazine.
Yet now, when Blanchard introduces his band of twenty-somethings, he can say, with some justification, that they are part of a still largely unrecognised new movement. It’s not as if the music has stood still. Leaner, meaner and steeped in tradition, these young players are masters of implication. And at this gig, Terence Blanchard’s film-composer’s sense of a musical journey was an ideal showcase for their interactive flair and rhythmic discipline.
Blanchard opened with an extended trumpet elegy supported by pre-recorded, Africanesque voices and a bowed bass drone. Blanchard has a lovely, rounded sound, and his technique appears effortless. The pauses, one feels, are not for breath but for concentration on the next flow of ideas. A clatter from the drums and a jerky bass line segue into “Wandering Wonder”, an exercise in building intensity where even the pulse is implied – the only rhythmic constant was Blanchard’s shaker.
Blanchard is a long-term associate of film director Spike Lee, and two selections from Lee’s HBO documentary When the Levees Broke followed – another Lee film theme, Mo’ Better Blues, was the encore. Stripped down to a classic jazz quintet, the sentiments of outrage were even more effective than the orchestral versions found on his album A Tale of God’s Will – Requiem for Katrina. Saxophonist Brice Winston was an effective but fairly conventional front-line foil, but it was in the rhythm section that the sparks really flew.
Bassist Derrick Hodge dazzled with dampened strings and a guitar-like tone on his feature, imperiously dovetailing with drummer Jamire Williams as, throughout the set, they toyed with the inner pulse, pausing intuitively to give greater impetus, while Cuban-born pianist Fabian Almazan juxtaposed Latin elements and free-form clusters with fugue-like figures without resorting to pastiche.
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