Blue Notes: Terence Blanchard
Four years have passed since trumpeter Terence Blanchard's last album as a leader: Choices (2009) featured some fine music marred by overdubbed monologues from philosopher-activist Dr Cornel West.
Blanchard has been busy, nonetheless, composing for stage and screen. Projects included soundtracks for the movies Bunraku (2010) and Red Tails (2012), and the music for an opera, Champion, with a libretto by playwright Michael Cristofer which had its world premiere yesterday at the Opera Theatre of St Louis.
And he has just released a new album, Magnetic.
Blanchard, who played in Hong Kong at the 2006 Arts Festival leading his own sextet, is one of a long line of great trumpeters to have come to the fore as members of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. The roll of honour includes Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis, whom he replaced in the band.
There is a cinematic quality to some of the jazz he records with his own bands. Some compositions, including several on the new album, sound as though they may have originally been intended to partner moving images, but the music is none the worse for that. Over the years jazz and the movies have borrowed plenty from each other.
Magnetic finds Blanchard and his quintet, comprising Brice Winston on saxophone, Kendrick Scott on drums, Fabian Almazan on piano, and 21-year-old prodigy Joshua Crumbly on bass, on sparkling form. "I've always believed that in life, what you keep in your mind is what you draw to yourself," Blanchard says of the album title.
It is also, he says, a reference to "spiritual magnetism" with some music inspired by a recent interest in Buddhism.
Most other projects Blanchard has undertaken recently have been on an orchestral scale, and he acknowledges that access to a larger range of musical resources has had an effect on his approach to small group jazz.
"You get accustomed to having so many different colours at your disposal," he says. "So I try to figure out a way to have as much diversity in everything we play, the same expansive colour palette as when you have an orchestra and voices."
One way of achieving this has been by augmenting the quintet with guest artists. Hard bop tune Don't Run features saxophonist John Coltrane's son Ravi on soprano sax, and Ron Carter on bass.
Blanchard says the title was inspired by a remark from Carter, who apparently had long wanted to work with the trumpeter, and was wondering when he might get the call. "Stop running from me, man," he reportedly said.
Ravi Coltrane moves to tenor sax for Pet Step Sitter's Theme Song. "Ravi has developed a style and a sound that's unique. It's an incredible feat given who his father was and what instrument his father played. But his being on my record has nothing to do with any of that. I love the way he plays."
Also guesting is West African guitarist Lionel Loueke, who made his name as a member of Blanchard's band. Blanchard mentored Loueke, and is now giving bassist Crumbly the same opportunity.
Blanchard encourages his band members to put forward their own tunes and arrangements, and Crumbly, Scott and Almazan contribute one each to Magnetic.
"Art Blakey told us composition was the path to finding your own voice. If you improvise, you don't sit down and reflect coldly on what it is you're playing because you're moving so quickly onto the next thing, whereas when you compose, you have to sit down and really contemplate what each note means and how you get from one to the next. That in itself will create a style."
Blanchard found his voice and style some time ago, and this album is a mature expression of it.
Three other noteworthy albums by Terence Blanchard.
Jazz in Film (1999, Sony): Blanchard tackles music from eight classic movies, many of them films noir, and revisits his own theme from Spike Lee's Clockers. An atmospheric and satisfying album which also features Joe Henderson and Donald Harrison on sax and Kenny Kirkland on piano.
Bounce (2003, Blue Note): Blanchard's Blue Note debut is a stylistically adventurous undertaking which finds the trumpeter tackling compositions by Wayne Shorter and Ivan Lins as well as his own and his bandmates'. Lionel Loueke is well to the fore.
Flow (2005, Blue Note): Herbie Hancock produced this CD, which was nominated for a Grammy for best jazz instrumental album. A career highpoint for Blanchard.