Terence Blanchard

Blue Note, 2013

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Truth is, Miles Davis ruined jazz for me for a long time. Kind Of Blue is that amazing, an album that established a standard of cool and swing and pure jazz elegance that has, to these ears, never been matched. I won’t recap my entire review of it here, but suffice it to say that Kind Of Blue is among the hardest acts to follow in the entire world of music.

So when the latest album from trumpeter Terence Blanchard—whose sterling credits include replacing Wynton Marsalis in Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers—arrived on my doorstep, my expectations remained relatively modest. What a welcome surprise, then, to find in Magnetic an album that manages to both honor the hard-bop, classic-jazz heritage of albums like Kind Of Blue, and carve out fresh new territory for exploration.

The key for me is that Blachard’s core quintet—himself on trumpet, Bruce Winston on tenor sax, Fabian Almanzan on piano, Joshua Crumbly on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums—plays like an ensemble, not just a collection of soloists. Even as the band repeatedly explores light-heavy dynamics and a very progressive sequencing of distinct musical vignettes, there’s a strong emphasis throughout on atmosphere and mood and organic flow. There’s an interplay that feels almost unconscious, the quintet feeding off each other in a way that strengthens the whole rather than emphasizing any single one of its parts. That, to my mind, is one of the most impressive things you can do as a musician of any kind, but especially as a jazz musician. And it’s done repeatedly on this album, whether the individual track features these five or one of Blanchard’s stellar guests, who include Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), Lionel Loueke (guitar) and the legendary Ron Carter (bass).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even Scott’s two-minute drum solo leading into “No Borders Just Horizons” and Almanzan’s solo piano piece “Comet” feel like organic parts of this overall exercise. Indeed, Blanchard is nothing if not a generous bandleader, here featuring tracks written by each member of his core quintet.

The first half of this album is, simply put, pretty spectacular. The lead-off title track sets the tone with a swirling, restless feel and sweet, charismatic solos from Winston and Blanchard. And then it happens again as Winston’s tenor sax lights up “Jacob’s Ladder,” written by bassist Crumbly, before Blanchard takes over with a solo that embodies class and elegance. So much modern jazz (and especially jazz-fusion) seems to go on the theory that more is better—more complexity, more notes, more whatever. Here Blanchard proves again that the opposite is true by simplifying the arrangement and amplifying the power of each moment.

“Don’t Run” and “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song” both feature Ravi Coltrane delivering tremendous guest performances, with Carter joining on the former. As you might expect, “Don’t Run” swings beautifully, opening with a trumpet-sax duet that surely stirred some ghosts in the room. Coltrane in particular shines on this track, unleashing some stunning, trilling, fearless runs. Then he goes even wilder on “Pet Step” with skittering phrases and incandescent dying notes.

“Hallucinations” showcases each member of the quintet in a tour de force number that—as its name implies—veers through one slightly surreal vignette after another, slinky/spooky moments melting in the late going into some very dreamy lines from Blanchard. “Central Focus” finds Almanzan scatting through a snappy solo before the group revisits elements of “Pet Step” to deliver “Another Step,” a sharp burst of imagination that’s at least as hallucinatory as “Hallucinations,” and is also where this album really takes off into something completely new and different. This track, really just a snippet at around two minutes, has a free-form, avant-garde vibe that allows it to become almost dissonant in places.

Closer “Time To Spare” is wild as well, abandoning the album’s earlier swing to explore the outer regions of melody in a caffeinated frenzy. Almanzan’s piano solo around 5:00 might be pure dissonance, or might just be an attempt to match the complexity of the rhythm underneath—it will take a few more listens to tell.

There’s a kind of supremely cool panache that Miles Davis and his quintet channeled on Kind Of Blue whose spirit you can feel bubbling through here. It’s virtuosity that manages to be impressive without, for the most part, being showy. It’s the confident swing of the grooves and the effortless dynamism of the solos. The first half of this album in particular reminded me again of what jazz can be, and how much I can get out of it, when it’s played like this: sophisticated, daring, masterful.

Rating: A-

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