Terence Blanchard, E-Collective, Turtle Island String Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s, 15 February 2023. First House. Review by Sebastian Scotney(*))
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Maybe one should just admit that what a band of musicians at the level of Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective can do in live performance is magic and alchemy. Because the moment one tries to analyse or explain how they can work so completely together and as one, can create a flow, a constantly shifting emotional landscape right in front of you, close-up and in a small venue, the attempt is doomed to failure. How did they just do that? How did they align their contributions so completely and unanimously in the moment? There is only one answer. They did.
The fascination of this gig was always going to be how the compositions of Terence Blanchard’s 2021 album “Absence”, a tribute to Wayne Shorter, would transfer to live performance. It is an album with a lot going on, in places it can be complex and dense. It combines and contrasts and brings about conversations between Blanchard, his E-Collective and the Turtle Island String Quartet. Blanchard himself has spoken of his striving for perfection as a composer, and one writer reflecting on “Absence” found the album “almost too perfect.” So…how would all that sound live?
The answer is the same: that such thoughts fade into the background when you’re there. It must be partly because Blanchard’s whole sound and stance as live performer carry such a burning conviction and attitude, everything else fits in along with it. Sometimes he points the bell of the trumpet high (Monika S. Jakubowska’s photo above captures that really well). At others he plays in the stratosphere of the trumpet register. It’s not forced or angry, it is where he needs to be. And just as the reverb settings he has create an aura around the sound, so pianist Taylor Eigsti also fits around Blanchard’s phrases in a way that responds and embellishes. (Fabian Almazan is on the album.) Eigsti is extraordinarily good.
The others are perfectly attuned to live this music to the full. Blanchard tells the story that when this group first met for a film session, they would deliberately mess things up in order to get more time enjoying each other’s company. Drummer Oscar Seaton has the liveliest of backbeats and a wonderfully subtle touch, and bassist David Ginyard, also a fine composer, always finds lively, unobvious bass lines.
The contrast and interlocking and to-ing and fro-ing of the E-Collective and the Turtle Island String Quartet is one of the main plotlines in “Absence”. The group really came into their own when they played “The Second Wave” without the E-Collective.
One area this band excels is in its complete mastery of the art of the intensity build from ethereal to overwhelming. The best one of these was on a guitar solo by the magnificent Charles Altura in the final number, “Kaos”. If the Saturday night first house audience had taken its time to get plugged in properly to the sound of this band, by the end they were cheering good’n’loud.
Absence (David Ginyard)
The Elders (Wayne Shorter)
I Dare You (Terence Blanchard)
The Second Wave (David Balakrishman)
Dark Horse (Charles Altura)
Kaos (from “Live” 2018)
(*) with thanks to Gabriel Taylor whose insights were invaluable.