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Listen to the essentials of Terence Blanchard


Like Wayne Shorter – to whom his latest album, “Absence,” is dedicated – Terence Blanchard is the rare jazz star whose fame as a composer almost eclipses his reputation as a daring and elegant improviser. Almost.

Blanchard, whose opera “The fire is extinguished in my bones” opens the season of the Metropolitan Opera on Monday, which became a jazz phenomenon in the early 1980s, taking the trumpet lead in Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers after the departure of Wynton Marsalis. Barely 20 years old, he was already a double threat: writing compositions of coiled energy and cleverly woven rhythmic interactions, and fiercely improvising, cutting tight bends and slipping into devious glissandos.

He quickly became the other musical half of Spike Lee, a relationship that helped make film music a primary calling. And in the 21st century, he has established himself as one of the most respected educators and spokespersons in jazz. Here are some excerpts from his discography.

For much of the 1980s Blanchard led a group with alto saxophonist Donald Harrison – another New Orleans native in his twenties and Jazz Messenger – that became one of jazz’s signature bands. Young Lions Movement. In “Ninth Ward Strut” Blanchard pays homage to the characteristic sound of his hometown with a second-line swing rhythm, while pushing his own identity as a composer. The track is rhythmically suspenseful and harmonically jagged in a way that would become characteristic.

Spike Lee brought in Blanchard to record the trumpet parts for Denzel Washington’s character in “Mo ‘Better Blues” (1990), including on the film’s title track, which became something of an era classic. of the Young Lions. Lee quickly started asking Blanchard to write sheet music – and he didn’t stop. “Malcolm X” (1992) was one of Blanchard’s first films, exploring a wider palette of choral harmonies, strings and brass. He rearranged the music for the jazz sextet soon after and recorded it as “The Malcolm X Jazz Suite,” a hectic and ambitious album for Columbia Records.

Blanchard recorded this track with neo-soul dean Erykah Badu for the soundtrack of librettist Kasi Lemmons’ 1997 film “Eve’s Bayou”. Joking with Badu, he pulls sassy glissandos from the horn and pushes it into rhythmic pitter-patter exchanges. (He later reappeared on a deluxe edition of the album “Baduizm.”)

After composing “When the Levees Broke”, Lee’s 2006 documentary on Hurricane Katrina, Blanchard adapted his compositions into a suite, as he did with the music of “Malcolm X”. He published the results under the title “A Tale of God’s Will” the following year.

Katrina was deeply personal to Blanchard, whose mother lost her home in the storm. Adoration and nervousness go hand in hand on “Dear Mom”, as Blanchard plays a pas de deux with a large section of strings. The album earned Blanchard the second of his five Grammys, for best jazz ensemble album.

For years Blanchard has focused on working with young musicians, and in his current quintet, the E-Collectif, he has assembled a team of cutting-edge improvisational demolishers who regularly reinvent how jazz-rock works. fusion. On “Can Anywhere Hear Me”, taken from a recent live album, Blanchard’s horn is enclosed in an electric body of distortion and effects, but the precision and counterintuition of his solo show through.