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The Terence Blanchard Quintet
Lionel Loueke Trio
Concert Review By: Tracey Whitney
The Terence Blanchard Quintet / Lionel Loueke Trio
The New Mexico Jazz Festival - Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe
It’s monsoon season in New Mexico, and even on this stellar night the storms would not take a break. Concertgoers arrived at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on July 26th - rain soaked, but full of anticipation. The two-week long New Mexico Jazz Festival was coming to a close this weekend, and many people (myself included) had made the trek from Albuquerque to Santa Fe to see trumpet master Terence Blanchard take to the stage.
Opening for Blanchard was The Lionel Loueke Trio, led by Beninese guitarist/vocalist Loueke. Steeping his African centered rhythms and sensibilities into American Jazz makes Lionel Loueke exceptional even in a world of uniqueness. Mentored by jazz greats Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard, his improvisational techniques bring together both nations, while his adept use of multiple effects pedals (on both his voice and his guitar) transports his music into otherworldly dimensions. The trio performed songs from his latest CD, “Heritage.” Most notable of their 4-song set were “Hope,” a beautifully melodic tune featuring Loueke’s soft vocals (sang in the African language known as Fon) and his trance-like guitar, and “Freedom Dance” a glorious assemblage of rhythms and African vocal patterns. Sharing the stage with Loueke was British/Nigerian bassist, Michael Olatuja. Of the three, he was the most demonstratively joyous, with a smile that never left his face. Very much in tune with Loueke, Olatuja zeroed in on his every riff and improvised in kind. Energetic and innovative drummer John Davis (who also plays with Cassandra Wilson) excelled at freeform while still maintaining the band’s backbone, allowing Loueke and Olatuja to go wherever they dared. The Lionel Loueke trio truly merged the African with the American, producing an experimental and unpredictable yet highly soul-satisfying set.
Headliner Terence Blanchard, the legendary jazz trumpeter from New Orleans, was introduced to thunderous applause. A five time Grammy® Award winner, Blanchard is also a renowned film-score and soundtrack composer; most notably his collaborations with Spike Lee (“Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X,” “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” and “25th Hour” (a Golden Globe nominee). He also contributed to the soundtracks of “Cadillac Records” and Lucasfilm’s “Red Tails” (about the Tuskegee Airmen). Most recently, he’s forayed onto Broadway, scoring the world premiere of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf**ker With a Hat” starring Chris Rock. And that’s just a taste of his storied, multi-faceted career.
Blanchard’s quintet also included Brice Winston on saxophone, Cuban-born Fabian Almanzar on piano, recent Julliard graduate Joshua Crumbly on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums – and rejoining his mentor on the 6-song set, special guest star, Lionel Loueke.
“Magnetic” (the title song of his new CD), started out as a call and response between Winston and Blanchard’s horns, veering off into Blanchard’s soaring trumpet-wailing solo to the Heaven’s. When Almanzar’s took the reins, his piano solo seemed to take in every key on the baby grand - sliding powerfully up and down, then turning tender, easing into Loueke’s own ethereal solar ascension. A constant improvisation, the song took on a sensual feel, calling to mind some kind of dramatic, mysterious, Mickey Spillane-ish film noir.
“Hallucinations” really allowed sax-man Winston to stretch out. (Side note: Blanchard pointed out that Winston is one of the co-owners of the Tucson Jazz Institute Community Middle School in Tucson, AZ. Their Ellington Band won the Essentially Ellington competition in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center 3 years in a row, and earned the top high school jazz band title from Downbeat Magazine.)
On “Don’t Run” drummer Kendrick Scott and Blanchard (a boxing fan) went toe-to-toe, with Scott utilizing every inch of his set – leaving nothing untouched, including the steel pipes that held it together. I’ll call it a draw.
Blanchard took a breather to (first of all) comment on the weather, saying “Y’all scared the hell out of me for a little bit, all that thunder.” “You’ve probably already deduced that I’m scary when it comes to lightening.” Welcome to New Mexico, Terence! He then introduced the band…to roaring laughter (who knew he was such a comedian?) giving hilarious little nuggets of info on each of his colleagues - to the delight of the audience.
Next up, “Nocturna” (an Ivan Lins composition) was truly a thing of beauty! A seductive, sensual and melodious piece that Blanchard did not mind taking his time with, interspersing teasing riffs and romantic interludes with Almanzar’s piano, which was at first laid back and tender, then became more insistent as the song progressed. Scott’s drums were also very present, with just the right amount of rhythmic accents. Blanchard’s trumpet came back in with 2-part harmonics that, combined with Loueke’s melodic vocals (and equally gentle guitar), finally brought the song to its ultimate, mind-blowing climax.
“Pet Step Sitters Theme Song” (composed by Almanzar) was a rollicking, piano-banging piece of improvisation that made Almanzar appear barely able to contain himself to the bench – seeming at times to lift off in the throes of complete abandon, and the riffing back and forth between himself and Blanchard was just as intense! Blanchard then played his trumpet in 3-part harmony -- which was just a little disconcerting, but then he has always been one to push the boundaries… Although a great deal of the song was improvisational (with everyone throwing in their own proverbial kitchen sink), it ended beautifully cohesive and melodic, and with Almanzar (thankfully) firmly replanted in his seat.
The finale, “Jacob’s Ladder” was written by the newest and youngest member of the band, bassist Joshua Crumbly. Up to this point, he remained laid back in the cut, adroitly playing his instrument, and maintaining a constant groove while the rest of the band took flight. With his own composition though, he confidently stepped out into the limelight and showed the audience just why he deserved to be on the stage!
Terence Blanchard is known for being very generous with his stage, and also for developing and encouraging young talent. Tonight was no exception. Everyone was allowed time to make their creative presence known, and their talent to shine. Personally, I would have liked to hear more of Mr. Blanchard himself, but at the end of the day, it was simply an improvisational tour de force by a TEAM of immensely talented musicians.