Since his days as the musical director of the 1980s-era of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Terence Blanchard has been a leading figure in the modern jazz movement. I’m sure that many of us are well-acquainted with much of his work throughout the three decades. In recent years, he has been keeping himself remarkably busy with a constant slew of original film and TV scores, including the 2012 picture “Red Tails,” which was executively produced by George Lucas. Now, Blanchard returns to the renowned Blue Note Records with his latest studio album, Magnetic.
The aggregation of over 50 soundtrack credits as composer as left a clearly discernible mark on the musical sensibilities of this esteemed trumpeter. Although Magnetic has distinct roots in the jazz tradition that he has become known for, it does not hesitate to travel through whole new realms of sound that had not previously been explored. These voyages are by no means an unwelcome change, however. They instead add a keen edge of heterogeneity that elevates the album towards a much greater plane of musical excellence.
From the softer balladic touches of “Jacob’s Ladder” to the fast-paced bebop groove of “Don’t Run,” Magnetic surely boasts compositions that can appeal to just about any jazz cat, young or old. The mesmerizing and hypnotic blur of “Hallucinations” stands out as one of the most adventurous pieces on the album, drawing the listener in for a compelling jazz-infused psychedelic journey. The lineup that has graced us with such a record is impressive, to say the least. Blanchard’s quintet is grounded by long-time colleague and band member Kendrick Scott on drums, who has made a name for himself as a bandleader and composer after graduating from Berklee College of Music in 2002. In addition to his work on three of Terence Blanchard’s other recordings, he has recorded and performed with such giants as Pat Metheny, Robert Glasper, Kenny Garrett, and has played the Monterey Jazz Festival several times already. Amongst other shining moments, he lays down an incredible drum solo at the beginning of “No Borders Just Horizons.” Rounding out the bottom end is Joshua Crumbly, a newcomer to the group and an absolute bass prodigy.
The final spot of the rhythm section is filled by Fabian Almazan on piano. According to Blanchard, “Fabian has been growing by leaps and bounds. His harmonic knowledge has taken the band in interesting directions and he colors things in ways that I think are very fresh and forward-thinking.” Almazan gets his fair share in the spotlight on many of Magnetic‘s ten tracks, including his beautiful solo piano piece (with electronics) entitled “Comet.” Terence Blanchard holds an admirable philosophy of encouraging active participation of his band members, not just in improvisation, but also in the composition of several of the songs on the record. This is an important strategy that Blanchard learned from his time spent with Art Blakey. As he recalls, “Art Blakey told us that composition was the path to finding your own voice. If you improvise, you don’t sit down and reflect coldly on what it is you’re playing because you’re moving so quickly onto the next thing. Whereas when you compose, you have to sit down and really contemplate what each note means and how you get from one to the next. That in itself will create a style.” Blanchard himself wrote four of the album’s compositions, while Crumbly, Scott, and Winston contributed “Jacob’s Ladder,” “No Borders Just Horizons,” and “Time to Spare,” respectively. Almazan ended up writing three pieces for the album, including the arguable 10-minute centerpiece of the record, “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song.”
Completing the quintet is saxophonist Brice Winston, who has performed on a number of Blanchard’s previous releases, including Wandering Moon (2000), Bounce (2003), and Flow (2005), as well as a number of his film soundtracks. In addition to this all-star cast of players, there are also several notable guest musicians featured throughout the album. We are treated to a special appearance from Ron Carter, who happens to be one of the most recorded jazz bassists in jazz history. Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea…the list of musicians he’s worked with goes on and on. On top of that, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke also join the ensemble. Hearing these phenomenal artists on Magnetic is easily a treat in of itself.
The namesake of Magnetic originates from Blanchard’s explorations through faith and spirituality. “Both Christianity and Buddhism have forms of meditation – one’s called prayer and one’s called chanting,” he states. “But it’s all about drawing on those things to help you attain enlightenment in your life at the same time that you’re trying to give back to the community.” This concept of spiritual magnetism can be found as the base for any religion. This album, Magnetic, is based on a strong core philosophy, features a spectacular lineup of collaborators, and explores musical boundaries that had previously been undiscovered. The reputation of Terence Blanchard places this album up on a pedestal, and its rich content does not disappoint. Enjoy the ride!