|AMG Review by Thom Jurek (4 1/2):
Trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has come further in a sense than any of the 1980s Art Blakey alumni. While Wynton and Branford Marsalis may have higher profiles, Blanchard is the player who has most improved as both a soloist and an ensemble player. He is an excellent bandleader whose great taste in arrangements and sidemen are reflected on nearly all of his recordings. But most of all, Mr. Blanchard has become one of jazz's most sophisticated and erudite composers. Combining elegance; sleek, shimmering surfaces; and lopping, limpid ambiences with wonderful harmonic and melodic invention — not to mention a great cast of soloists — there's no wonder why Mr. Blanchard is Spike Lee's chosen soundtrack composer. On Bounce, Mr. Blanchard and his septet (which includes the brilliant pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Brice Winston, drummer Eric Harland, B3 and Fender Rhodes maestro Robert Glasper, guitarist Lionel Loueke, and bassist Brandon Owens) explore various sides of the Latin music experience while not making a "Latin" record per se. Blanchard seems to be interested in the colorations of rhythm on his own modern creative and post-bop experiments in texture, structure, and musical elasticity. And these tunes do stretch into melodic arenas he's never explored before. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the achingly beautiful "Passionate Courage," where a long, slow opening statement form the horns moves in linear fashion to engage both piano and Rhodes at different junctures as they wander at a luxuriant pace through shaded key signatures and satiny harmonic figures, and engage counterpoint without actually delving into it. On "Azania," Owens' bass creates the Afro-Cuban motif that is gently funked up by Glasper on B3. Finally, the African side of the rhythm becomes dominant with chanted vocals by Loueke and the tune moves into Abdullah Ibrahim's brand of township jazz, while never straying from the blues all that much. Remarkable. Ultimately, Bounce is the most perfectly paced of all of Blanchard's recordings. He divides his time between tempos, but always comes back to silence to ground himself and begin over. In terms of his lyrical lines, they have never been in a sense more simple or more sophisticated (check out the blissed-out harmonics in "Innocence"), where the individual players become identified by their ensemble contributions first and then as soloists. Mr. Blanchard's own soling has never been more restrained or more profound. In his economy of phrase, entire sound worlds become evident that were never noticeable before. On Bounce, Blanchard proves that he is the trumpet player, composer, and bandleader who is moving jazz, albeit at his own pace, in new directions that encompass both a new look at Western musical systems and never leave the human heart out of the equation. This is his masterpiece thus far and a high-water mark for anybody else to follow.
_Although he’s spent much of the past 15 years scoring films for Spike Lee and others, trumpeter Terence Blanchard certainly hasn’t forgotten about jazz, as his impressive Blue Note debut makes clear. Bounce finds the former Jazz Messenger having grown well past his early days as part of the “young lions” phenomenon of the ‘80s into a mature, individual artist exploring a wide palette of jazz colors.
Like the best jazz artists working today, Blanchard has an awareness of the music’s past and present and openness to influences outside the jazz world (at least, that is, to those who would offer a narrow definition of all that jazz encompasses). Along with a band of talented young stars in the making (Aaron Parks on piano, Brandon Owens on bass, Eric Harland on drums, Lionel Louke on guitar and Brice Winston on saxophone), Blanchard deftly blends neo bebop and Latin grooves, New Orleans funk and African rhythms into a cohesive, expressive, contemporary whole.
Among Blanchard’s impressive original compositions, his “Azania” digs deep into Afro-Caribbean traditions, including a wordless chant from Louke, while the title tune (which is paired with former partner Donald Harrison’s “Let’s Go Off”) is flavored with the down-home gumbo of his (and most of the band’s) Crescent City home. Blanchard even delves into free form funk, with the addition of Robert Glasper on Fender Rhodes, on the fiery original “Fred Brown” and on an edgy reworking of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.”
A generous leader and mentor, Blanchard gives plenty of room for band members to express themselves with extended solos, and in the case of Parks, Harland and Owens, with notable originals of their own. While never hogging the spotlight, Blanchard is an adroit soloist himself, always in full command of his instrument whether playing fast and furious runs or moody ballads. With Bounce, Blanchard proves himself a jazz artist very much of the moment and a jazz man for all seasons.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York.
~ Joel Roberts