Concert Review: Terrence Blanchard at Nighttown, 8/19

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Having just released his first album in five years, trumpeter Terrence Blanchard was rightfully proud of the results he recorded in his native New Orleans. He prominently featured music from Choices during his two-night stint at Nighttown, unleashing four extended performances during the second set last night.

Surrounded by a foursome of talented young musicians, Blanchard took no prisoners with an incendiary approach that was largely fueled by the musical drumming of Kendrick Scott.

The set got underway with Fabian Almazan’s “HUGs (Historically Underrepresented Groups)." The pianist’s opening gambit was more classical than jazz in its personality and scope of expression. It made for an unusual start, further reinforced by the loose rhythmic feel that eventually accompanied the piece, as the rest of the group would fall in.

This was not your typical swing, but more of a collective momentum that provided evidence of how telepathic the communication would get with this combo. Blanchard would put forth a crazy solo full of intensity and bravura, drummer Scott responding to every move with quicksilver creativity.

Spoken-word passages were integrated into several pieces, starting with “Choices,” a message from Dr. Cornel West touching on the theme of race and class as typical of the Princeton professor and philosopher’s stream of thought. While one might be tempted to call this number a ballad, there was a good deal of ebb and flow that found the music touching on many moods, some of them intense and some of them gentle. At one point, Kendrick Scott put down his sticks and used his fingers to tap out an accompanying beat.

The last two numbers — “Him or E” and “A New World (Created Inside the Walls of Imagination)” — sprint forth with a more ebullient feel, Scott again proving to be a valuable cog in the operation of this finely tuned machine.

In fact, I’ve rarely heard a drummer play as loud in this venue. Yet don’t confuse volume level with mere bashing: Scott is as complete and creative a jazz drummer as you’ll liable to find, and his boisterous form of accompaniment is not unlike that of the great Billy Drummond.

Touching on New Orleans' second line tradition, “A New World” capped off a marvelous set. Blanchard is still at the top of his game. While he's been off the radar for a few years, it’s clear he has lost none of his dedication to the music, and his forward-thinking approach last night blew the dust off a treasured art form. —C. Andrew Hovan

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