London Jazz Festival Review: Terence Blanchard Quintet at Ronnie Scott’s

Teence Blanchard Quintet, London October 2011. Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Terence Blanchard Quintet
Ronnie Scott’s (Friday 9th November, LJF. Second night of two. Review by Tom Gray).

There is something reminiscent of Miles Davis in the way trumpeter Terence Blanchard has empowered the young talent in his quintet to take risks and make their own choices, and it pays off with music that sounds consistently fresh and takes a very natural course. During his engaging and often hilarious ten-minute introduction of the band members at this Ronnie’s London Jazz Festival curtain-raiser, he gave each of them a gentle ribbing but also made clear his deep-felt admiration for their abundant musical abilities. In his words, these are “fearless” musicians who “respect the tradition by breaking the tradition”.

The tradition was in the foreground on the opener, ‘Four’, whose headlong post-bop transported us back to the live recordings of the same piece by Miles’s 60s quintet with George Coleman. Blanchard limbered up with a loose statement of the theme and a spacious, exploratory solo, which was nudged into more contemporary realms by the hyper-alert shifts of rhythm and texture from the excellent Kendrick Scott on drums and Julliard student Joshua Crumbly — who had only just turned 21 — on bass.

Blanchard offered his band ample space to reveal the depth and variety of their expressive capabilities on the originals that followed, taking in slowly building grooves, stripped-down blues and twisting up-tempo sprints. The Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan had pinned his Herbie Hancock colours firmly to the mast on ‘Four’ but his gossamer touch, scurrying asymmetric lines and sparky dialogue with his band mates also marked him out as a distinctive voice, worth paying close attention to in the coming years. Tenor saxophonist Brice David Winston proved a powerful presence, consistently hitting his marks during some pithy, finely worked solos, and responding imaginatively to the ideas fed to him by Almazan. He combined especially well with Blanchard, their improvised lines neatly dove-tailing on ‘Jean Pierre’.

Maybe due to a combination of Blanchard’s genial showmanship and the effortless group interplay, this early evening set appeared to fly past. We were therefore only too grateful for a substantial encore, which allowed the sound of this outstanding quintet to live on just a little longer in the mind.

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