Terence Blanchard, Magnetic (Blue Note)
Even in tracks orchestrated with layers of electronic mysteries, a fine sense of chance-taking permeates Blanchard’s return to the Blue Note label. “Don’t Run,” the piece with the least contrivance, is to a considerable degree the album’s most daring. Built on a stuttering unison melodic line, it is just short of a free-for-all for the trumpeter, soprano saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Ron Carter, with drummer Kendrick Scott’s strategically placed interjections urging them along. The track has a sense of street-beat abandon evocative of parade music in Blanchard’s native New Orleans. Carter is magisterial on this piece and “Magnetic.” The gifted 19-year-old bassist Joshua Crumbly is on eight of the album’s 10 tracks. He has yet to attain Carter’s incisiveness, but he more than holds his own.
“Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song,” by the young Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan, also captures some of the same wild feeling as “Don’t Run.” Blanchard, Almazan, and Coltrane—on tenor sax—solo passionately. Ethereal tones paint the background of the piece. They sound like a guitar but may be Blanchard’s horn routed through a synthesizer. As the piece fades away, someone adds touches of vocalise. Almazan is the only soloist in a dazzling performance of his feature piece, “Comet.” Studio techniques expand the dramatic title track by Blanchard’s quintet to Wagnerian proportions, particularly in his solo, but the manipulations fall away for tenor saxophonist Brice Winston’s and Almazan’s sharply etched choruses.
“Hallucinations” (not the Bud Powell tune, but a Blanchard composition) goes to lengths to live up to its title, with more of those eerie guitar-like slips and slides permeating the atmosphere. Scott’s “No Borders, Just Horizons” gets underway with the drummer’s tight press rolls initiating a solo impressive for its concision. Blanchard’s virtuosic improvisation in this piece, indeed throughout the album, is tightly controlled, with few of the glissandos, slurs and half-valve effects that in some of his previous work became clichés to the point of distraction. Saxophonist Winston (pictured) appears on five tracks. The purity of his tone and the fleetness of his soloing are notable throughout and dominate the recording of his composition “Time to Spare.” Through the magic of electronic manipulation, Blanchard becomes a raucous trumpet trio on the relentlessly intense “Another Step,” which ends in a round of sardonic laughter.
An observation on the packaging, possibly of concern only to grumpy critics: the CD booklet lists the names of the musicians in miniscule white type on a red background, making it a challenge to decipher who plays on which tracks without the aid of a powerful light or a magnifying glass, or both. The three pages inside the booklet are largely devoted to a widescreen photo of Blanchard surrounded by spectral out-of-focus images. The one panel of notes is devoted to Blanchard’s thanking everyone involved in the making of the CD, including the president of the record company and members of the production staff. Some of that space might have been used for facts about this fascinating, often complex music. The lack of meaningful information is by no means unusual to this album. It follows a trend that jazz and classical companies have adopted from the pop and rock branches of the record industry. That may satisfy requirements for trendiness, but it is of no help to listeners who want to know about what they’re hearing.
That cavil aside, this is a recommended album.