Admirable in many respects, but an ultimately frustrating experience.
Sid Smith 2009
With over 50 film scores under his belt, trumpeter Terence Blanchard knows a thing or two about creating atmospheric settings, and well-crafted phrases. Firmly rooted in the straight-ahead jazz tradition, his work is rich though not always known for being especially adventurous.
Yet Blanchard’s playing has a bright vibrancy which spars with and interrogates the harmonic implications within this music. Understanding that less is sometimes more, he’s frugal when it comes to dispensing choruses, usually leaving the listener wanting more.
A generous bandleader, members of his group make forceful and often thrilling contributions. Pianist Fabian Almazan’s spectral clusters recall Herbie Hancock’s spacious disposition when it comes to providing a sideways take on things. Kendrick Scott’s sturdy drumming is also an imposing presence throughout.
There are some problems, however. Solid tunes are sometimes undermined by unnecessary fade outs which subtly undermine the possibilities of dramatic resolution or emotional delivery.
The album also features the voice of Dr Cornel West, the noted philosopher, writer, critic and teacher of both religion and African American studies at Princeton University, or as Time magazine recently called him: “one complex dude”. West’s discourse on the nature of choice and the kind of people we choose to be provides Blanchard with his title and conceptual back story.
West’s voice drifts in and out of dreamy montages. Sometimes there’s a wry linkage between the two different worlds. Only moments after West says, “I consider myself a jazz man in the world of ideas, a blues man in the life of the mind / Because my models are jazz musicians and blues men who have to find their voices and not just be echoes... All emulation is the sign of an adolescent mind”, Blanchard can be heard giving a knowing hat-tip to Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis by his fleeting quote of A Night in Tunisia.
Whilst there’s no denying the musical or philosophical worth of either participant, neither is particularly well served when one is faded out in deference to the other. Though admirable in many respects, this particular double act makes for an ultimately frustrating experience.