Terrance Blanchard told us early, in fact, right after the opening number of his first set at the Tralfamadore Jazz Institute Saturday night. We in the audience were his guinea pigs for some new, yet-to-be-recorded material.
Hey! I was ready.
These neo-traditionalists (not my term) like New Orleans-born Blanchard, all grew up learning from pianist Ellis Marsalis, and eventually grew out of the Wynton Marsalis phenomenon. Justly, or unjustly, they have the reputation for recreating the jazz of an earlier age, the '60s to be exact. Their critics argue they can't create anything new or individual.
What we heard from this trumpeter's new quintet Saturday however, recalled the power of Wynton Marsalis' own 1985 Artpark preview performance of his "Black Codes from the Underground" material that remains etched in my mind, but still unfulfilled. It was intense!
The compositions had all the character you'd expect from a former musical director for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the sparkling unison themes, the rapid tempos, the adrenalin-infused solos.
The trumpeter's playing boiled fervently. One could almost measure it by the steamy mist that hovered about his face in direct proportion to his effort and expression. It was a visual cue I had never before noted from any player, but it was certainly real.
The set's sole ballad, "I Thought About You," a spotlight for Blanchard, -- was intimate and soulful. His tone appeared to speak at times, the true mark of Blanchard's command and technique.
Accompanying him were some new faces. Pianist Daryl Grant could have been three different pianists. During the opener, he played with the syncopated sparseness and melodic disjointedness of a Herbie Hancock. On the second number he stamped his left foot wildly, his fingers meanwhile, frantically exploding from close interval fragments to wide berth melodies, like a possessed Bud Powell with Tyneristic trills. On the set's sole ballad, he framed both Blanchard's solo and his own with the sensitivity of a Bill Evans.
Tenor saxophonist Sam Newsome wasn't as varied in his approach. He exhibited a fondness for fondling melodic fragments, sometimes overdoing it, until he eventually springboarded to a new idea. He exhibited the intensity of an Odean Pope, however.
Bassist Rodney Whitaker played with a facility reminiscent of former Marsalis bandmate Charnette Moffett. Some might call drummer Troy Davis a "busy" player, but his response to his bandmate's solos proved he definitely has both ears and technique to hold the band's statements together.