Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Terence Blanchard - Choices (Concord, 2009)

Like his mentor, Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard shows a tendency toward grandiosity in his projects be they film scores or jazz albums. This album attempts to focus on the choices that human beings make as they travel through life, and to that end he is accompanied by Walter Smith on saxophones, Fabian Almazan on piano, Lionel Louke on guitar, Derrick Hodge on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Philosopher Cornell West provides spoken word accompaniment and soul singer Bilal appears on a few tracks. The album opens well on "Byus" with West's monologue giving way to mid tempo bop based jazz, featuring a nice round of solos. When the group is able to get into an uptempo groove, the results are successful. "Him or Me" has a nice uptempo trumpet and drums dialogue and fine saxophone soloing from Smith. Louke takes a fine solo as well, but the spotlight here is on Scott, who keeps the performance simmering the whole way. "A New World" even toys with funk, starting with an urgent groove and then ratcheting down to standard hard-bop derived jazz. Blanchard adds some nice energetic trumpet. Some of the selection on the remainder of the album are a little bit more problematic. Bilal is featured on "When Will You Call" and while the band's music is solid, the vocals and lyrics come across as weak and watered down R&B. Dr. Wests pontificating also seems forced into the music. It is interesting to listen to the first time, but on subsequent listens it seems to interrupt the flow of the music. Overall, this was a bit of a mixed bag. The music was well played and occasionally excellent, but as a grand social statement it falls a bit short. Blanchard deserves admiration for his ambition, but perhaps not as much for his execution.
Choices - amazon.com

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