Review: Terence Blanchard plus Soulbop

Terence Blanchard Quintet. Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Terence Blanchard Quintet, Soulbop
(Barbican Hall, July 7th 2011, Review by Frank Griffith)

This was a night when two storming quintets held forth at the Barbican as part of the Blaze festival. Sporting essentially the same lineup (trumpet, tenor sax, keyboards,, bass and drums) the two groups could not have been more different in terms of style, repertoire and overall musical message. This contrast showed the versatility, scope and effect of what we define as jazz nowadays.

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s group opened the proceedings with five numbers stemming from influences of the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet to the sounds of haunting Europeon Cinema themes from the same period. This is not surprising, considering the leader has forged a substantial career scoring films over the last 20 years. Many of which were directed by Spike Lee like “More Better Blues”, “Malcolm X” and more recently, “When The Levees Broke”, a documentry of the notorious Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, which is where Blanchard currently resides and was raised. Of particular note was his composition “Choices” a slow and ruminative experience that spread through the massive hall magnificently in its subtley building but electrifying manner. This was helped by Cuban pianist, Fabian Alamazon ‘s use of a keyboard (in additon to the piano) in concert with Terence’s echoey and multi-voiced trumpet equipped with its own microphone. Blanchard is no prisoner to a standing microphone, but can bob, weave and graze freely about the stage as he wishes – and how the hell does he scream those 3rd register high notes while doubling up in a crouch?

Tenorist Brice Winston was in top form with his command of the horn replete with a dark, compact sound offset by his fiery rhythmic activity and acute verticalilty negotiating through challenging harmonic sequences. Also impressive was 19 year old old bassist and current Julliard student, Joshua Crumbly, who “drove the bus” throughout as well as managed a refreshingly understated but melodic solo on the show’s closer, a blues in F. As its title was not anounced I’ll call it “Eff-fort-less” for the welcome combination of bluesy earthiness and cheeky diversions and sassy swagger.

After a lengthy interval (presumably due to a complicated changeover) Soulbop reigned. Co-led by trumpeter and composer of innovative 1970s funky horn themes, Randy Brecker and ex-Miles saxophonist Bill Evans endeavoured to blow the roof off the joint. Fully decked out in bright green trousers and his customary headband, Evans poured forth with a fiery flow of post-Coltrane “obble-de-gobbling”. This is a term invented by fellow saxists (who can’t do it) describing the sound of relentless chromaticisms spiked with the popping of overtones from the bottom of the horn. One has to be there, I suppose…. Randy’s trumpet, also sporting a clip microphone flourished throughout in his improvisations in a clear and concise manner. The real stars of the show though were the multi-grooved perambulations of the rhythm section, Medeski, Martin and Wood, changing tack at every juncture. The cheeky and almost pest-like intervenings of keyboardist, John Medeski, were equally amusing and unpredictable, playing into the hands of a receptive audience, who showed their appreciation for these diverse fivesomes.

This concert was co-produced by the Barbican Centre and Serious

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