Terence Blanchard
"A Tale of God's Will
- A Requiem for Katrina"

(Blue Note)
A Tale of God's Will

Review by Brad Walseth

Rage and sorrow over the devastation of his hometown of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, as well as the rest of the country's inaction in aiding the inhabitants led to Spike Lee's documentary, "When the Levees Broke," and resulted in trumpeter's new release, "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)." Four of the tracks were taken from the documentary soundtrack, but were remade with expanded orchestration. Additionally, four of the band members contributed their own compositions treating the subject to the overall scheme. The result is a powerful musical document of melancholy, pain and perseverance in the face of tragedy.

Album opener, "Ghost of Congo Square" references the location where African Americans once gathered to sing and dance to the music of their culture, but the rhythmic churning, hand-clapping and vocals could also embody the vibrant spirit of the city before the disaster struck. Meanwhile, "Levees" opens with deceptively calm strings before the storm. With ominous piano chords underneath, you can feel the water rising with every swell of the strings. Blanchard's Miles-influenced trumpet cries out a clarion call of warning in some of the most chilling blues a listener will ever hear. Rarely does an artist bare his soul so nakedly as Blanchard does here, with the musician's intense frustration, anger and deep sorrow coming out clearly in this haunting composition.

The beautiful Wading Through" follows, with pianist Aaron Parks providing graceful lines over the subtly challenging movements. Parks follows this with a melodic hymn-like composition of his own, entitled "Ashe'" (West African for "and so it shall be"). Blanchard eschews the expected in his probing solo with exciting results on this cautiously hopeful number.

Saxophonist Brice Winston's "In Time of Need" expresses sadness and longing. Winston's bluesy saxophone matches his bandleader's trumpet while percussionist Zach Harmon's tabla adds an extra sense of universality. Next Blanchard duets with bassist Derrick Hodge on the short, but freewheeling "Ghost of Betsy," another spirit kicking up her heels in Blanchard's memory. Then the orchestral interlude "The Water" swirls and crashes ashore with frightening beauty.

Drummer Kendrick Scott's "Mantra" features a nice intro spotlighting Hodge on electric bass. This positive number focuses on energy and hope for rebuilding with Blanchard's soaring trumpet leading the way. This is followed by Hodge's shimmering composition "Over There," which also expressing a tentative optimism. Blanchard and Parks play at their most melodic here on this memorable ballad.

Another ghost ("Ghost of 1927") appears like the ghost of Christmas Past, briefly recalling a bygone spirit, with Winston wailing on his sax, before the incredible "Funeral Dirge" marches past. Blanchard's memories of dead bodies floating on the water inspired this piece, in which the forgotten and "expendable" ones are given a proper heartfelt tribute.

"Dear Mom"is a heartbreaking composition that recalls his mother's reaction to returning to her destroyed home where the devastation had destroyed possessions and heirlooms that could never be recovered. The grief is palpable, with the hope of moving forward with life present as a slender but strong thread.

Bitterness and righteous anger simmers as the Amercan government insists on destroying and rebuilding Iraq in the interests of oil profits, while thousands of Americans still suffer the after effects of one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Many unaffected Americans have forgotten their countrymen in need; Terence Blanchard wants to make sure that no one forgets.

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