calendar  |  musicians  |  venues  |  concert reviews  |  CD reviews  |  photos  |  features

Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard,
Walter Smith

Walter Smth

Fabian Almazon,
Terence Blanchard

Kendrick Scott

Terence Blanchard

Matt Brewer

photos by
Andrzej (Andre) Pilarczyk

click here for more

Filene Recital Hall
Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, NY
April 3, 2009

by J Hunter

Last year, Skidmore College awarded Terence Blanchard the 2008-2009 McCormack Endowed Visiting Artist-Scholar Residency – an honor that’s been held by Joshua Redman and Nnenna Freelon, as well as by authors Michael Ondaatje & Sir Jonathan Miller and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. Students involved in Blanchard’s seminars studied Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, both through visits to the Crescent City and concentrated examination of Blanchard’s musical opus A Tale of God’s Will: Requiem for Katrina. Blanchard must have developed some pretty hungry students, because they were practically hanging from the rafters in the jam-packed hall when Blanchard and sax player Walter Smith III walked into Filene Recital Hall to the delicious groove of Smith’s composition “Los.”
It takes serious work to match Roy Haynes’ sartorial splendor, but Blanchard gave it the old (Skidmore) college try: Black jacket, untucked off-white silk shirt with matching show kerchief, blue jeans, oversized watch chain hanging from the belt, and white sneakers with just enough rhinestones to catch the light. The outfit brought it all in – the “Suit Jazz” look Wynton Marsalis revived, the come-as-you-are vibe Miles Davis initiated as part of his electric metamorphosis, and the hip-hop fashions favored by current players like Christian McBride. At the end of the day, though, Blanchard could have come out wearing a plain purple business suit and it wouldn’t have mattered when he hit that first unerring note.
Blanchard’s been using a wireless mic for as long as I’ve been watching him, and the reason is visibly understandable: This music – whether it’s new stuff like drummer Kendrick Scott’s “Touched by an Angel” or past classics like Aaron Parks’ epic “Harvesting Dance” – reaches down into Blanchard’s soul, and tying him to a static spot onstage wouldn’t let him fully experience what he’s playing. Blanchard walks the stage, playing to the floor, the ceiling, the band, the walls, sending complex figures and laser-guided blasts into the air as the audience sits with their jaws hanging progressively lower. Smith’s “Him or Me” had one of those moments where Blanchard is one gear ahead of everybody else, finding new way to take his solo higher, and higher, and higher still.
When he came back to earth after “Los”, Blanchard informed us that most of the music on the program was set to appear on a new Blue Note disc sometime this fall; he also ran down the band personnel, of whom he said, “I look at them as the future of this music.” Since Parks and guitarist Lionel Loueke went out on their own, Blanchard’s group has been going through a slow change process. Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan was the first step in that process, replacing Parks as Blanchard slimmed his combo down to a quintet. I’d criticized Almazan’s hesitancy at last year’s Skidmore Jazz Institute show, and I wasn’t happy to see that “quality” rear its head at this show. However, Alamazan is getting better at establishing his comfort zones, so while his solo openings offered little, he showed he can be a titanic closer and vital support player. His discordant comp towards the end of “Harvesting” really upped the urgency.
More band turnover came with longtime tenorman Brice Winston’s departure, and only time will tell if Smith will be a satisfactory replacement. Like Almazan, Smith needs to find a Happy Place before he goes to town, but when he does get good, he’s very good, and he’s a solid composer if the pieces played here are any indication. He’s also a Skidmore Jazz Institute alum like Scott, who is becoming more of a force-of-nature with each passing year. Blanchard didn’t say who is playing bass for him nowadays, but Matt Brewer was pinch-hitting with only one rehearsal under his belt, though it sure didn’t show on his hellacious in-the-clear solo prior to “Los.”
The tonnage of great jazz we see every year totally undercuts the “Albany is a cultural wasteland” meme, and Skidmore’s various concert series are a big part of that. However, it’s rare that a musician can give anything else besides the occasional workshop. While Blanchard’s Filene Recital Hall show was as hard-hitting as anything we’ve seen him do, his year-long work with Skidmore students on understanding Katrina – and the acts of humanity, and inhumanity, that surrounded it – will leave an even bigger mark.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.