DATELINE: Blues Alley, Sunday August 19, 8 pm.
I admit I’m a bit biased against the gang of jazz musicians once known as the Young Lions, but Terence Blanchard is the exception. His work on Spike Lee‘s films alone solidifies his position as brilliant auteur and craftsman, which he easily proved in the opening shows of his tour supporting A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), the soundtrack CD to Lee’s HBO documentary When the Levees Broke.
Oddly, “Fred Brown,” the opener to Blanchard’s 8 p.m. set, was the song that most evoked the wild and intense chaos of the hurricane that destroyed his hometown—and “Fred Brown” isn’t even a part of the score; it’s a track from Blanchard’s 2003 album Bounce. Music from A Tale of God’s Will filled the rest of the set, and it was a somber, mournful affair, with Blanchard’s liquid tone and legato phrasing often seeming to sob. The composition “Funeral Dirge” actually had the structure of a classical marzia funebre, but as lyrical and beautiful as the most tender love ballad. Blanchard’s passionate playing belied that mournfulness: he seemed to be physically pushing himself into the mouthpiece of his trumpet.
As important as Blanchard’s personality and passion, though, was the work of his quintet. Tenor saxophonist Brice Winston usually played lightly and made it look effortless…but when he got wound up, the music burst from him like Coltrane or David Murray. Bassist Derrick Hodge looked and sounded like he was meditating through the entire set, whether plucking out a pulse or giving his axe an enigmatic strum. Fabian Almazan, a young Cuban pianist who’s the newest member of Blanchard’s band, is a storm unto himself: his default mode is a crystalline, rainy sound, which he plays while rocking back and forth on the bench, but on most of the songs he slowly drifted into dissonance that would then erupt into a sturm-und-drang monster.
The linchpin, though, is Kendrick Scott, the drummer. He’s already gotten lots of notice for his debut album as a leader, The Source (released on his own World Culture Music imprint), but you have to see what Scott does on the traps to believe it. I’d love to say that I’ve never seen anything like what he does, but that implies that I know what the hell he was doing. Whatever it was, mark my words: this guy is going to be a star.
Sunday was the last night of Blanchard’s stand in D.C.; he now heads back up to Manhattan to play the Jazz Standard in Kips Bay. But it’s not too late to by the gorgeous album he’s promoting. That’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), on Blue Note.