Terence Blanchard Group

SPACE, Evanston,IL
Friday, Feb. 26, 2010

Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard

Story by Brad Walseth
Photos by John Broughton, Copyright 2010

The Terence Blanchard Group took the stage in front of a SRO crowd Sunday, February 28th at Evanston's SPACE. The knowledgeable audience at this exceptional "space" was, as Blanchard pointed out, "not your usual Sunday crowd." The listeners were aware of Blanchard's work as one of the modern era's finest composers and anticipated hearing songs from his latest CD Choices - one of our top albums of 2009 (see our review here). They were not disappointed, as the trumpeter led his first rate band through several compositions from that release.

Joining Blanchard on this tour was his usual pianist - young Fabian Almazan, and drummer Kendrick Scott (both of whom appeared on Choices). Bass player Michael Olatuja (from Kenya by way of London) and Arizona-based saxophonist Brice Winston (formerly from New Orleans) rounded out the group.

Almazan started things off with a beautiful solo piano improvisation before the horn players ascended the stage and the band kicked into the haunting "Winding Roads." This lengthy number has a memorable melodic theme reminiscent of "Harbor Lights" and featured great interplay between the front line horns. This piece also gave Winston a chance to immediately flex his muscles. This saxophonist is making a name for himself as a musician and educator. Blanchard also added some effected trumpet on this strong opening number.

As on Choices, spoken word recordings of Dr. Cornel West - philosopher, civil rights activist and educator - were played between songs. "HUGS (Historically Underrepresented Groups)" followed and was serious and passionate. Long and strong lines from Blanchard and an extended piano solo were highlights here, as was crashing drums from Scott - who Blanchard calls the most "musical" drummer he has ever played with.

The title track was adventurous, yet socially beautiful. Lovely trumpet and light piano, thundering drums and a superb sax solo from Winston - who at times during the night seemed to be evoking the spirit of Coltrane. Meanwhile, bassist Olatuja was solid and creative, and the youthful Almazan and Kendrick both were fearless throughout the evening - daring to take things to the edge and even beyond. Bandleader Blanchard was often content to allow the young men their opportunity in the spotlight, but when he played - the spirits of Louis Armstrong and Miles could be heard through his horn.

"A New World (Created Inside the Walls of Imagination)" is a funky New Orleans (post) funeral march, and indeed, Blanchard and Winston marched out into the crowd to end the concert. Blanchard returned to the stage for a shimmering encore of Brazilian composer Ivan Lins' "Nocturna," that sent the audience contentedly into the night with the sound of Blanchard's golden horn still in their ears.

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