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Terence Blanchard - A Tale of God's Will (a Requiem for Katrina) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 January 2008
ImageNew Orleans has been one of the United States’ most important music cities (some would say the most significant) of the past 120 years. The center of jazz before the music even had its name, the city featured such pioneers as Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard, Joe “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong among its pre-1920 cornetists, and Jelly Roll Morton, one of jazz’s first major composer-arranger-pianists, was based in New Orleans during the era of its legal red light district, Storyville. Classic New Orleans jazz survived even with many of its greats moving north during 1915-30, and after some lean times during the Depression, the music made a major comeback, becoming an important tourist attraction in the 1950s and ‘60s. The city in the 1950s had an important recording industry, resulting in New Orleans R&B becoming a strong influence on the records of the era. More modern jazz was a bit underground starting in the 1950s but really exploded with the emergence of Wynton Marsalis in 1979 and the rise of the Young Lions.

Terence Blanchard was one of the first trumpeters to come to prominence after Marsalis. He never sounded like Wynton and there is little trace of traditional New Orleans jazz in his playing or recordings, but Blanchard (even when living elsewhere) considers New Orleans home. Since succeeding Marsalis in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he has grown into one of the truly great trumpeters, displaying an original and distinctive tone, a wide range and a consistently creative imagination. Blanchard has also become an important film composer, writing dozens of scores including many for Spike Lee. During Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke,” Blanchard’s music and trumpet can be heard in important spots.
Four of those melodies are revisited on this CD. A Tale of God’s Will is subtitled A Requiem for Katrina. Completely appalled not only by the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused New Orleans, greatly worsened by the inadequate levees, Blanchard is rightfully disgusted by the incompetence of the local government and the indifference of the federal government, which made the crisis much worse and longer lasting than it needed to be. One wonders when New Orleans will finally be rebuilt, and why it is taking longer than San Francisco after its 1906 earthquake and fire.

For this mournful and rich 13-part suite, Blanchard utilized his regular quintet (saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott) plus Zack Harmon on tabla and the 40-piece Northwest Sinfonia. The music has its hopeful stretches, particularly when it becomes nostalgic and remembers ghosts, but in sections titled “Levees,” “Wading Through,” “The Water,” “Funeral Dirge” and “Dear Mom,” it is often heartbreaking.

Terence Blanchard does a remarkable job conveying the strength of the survivors of New Orleans while moaning the unnecessary tragedy and its disturbing aftermath. His trumpet playing has never sounded more emotional than during this very memorable project.

The instrumental emphasis shifts from cut-to-cut, with a trumpet piece succeeded by one in which the bass is prominent or the orchestra temporarily takes over. The balance is always logical. One can hear an effective echo on the trumpet during the most dramatic passages (particularly on the closing “Dear Mom”), and the superior recording quality adds to the power of this remarkable set.

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