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Terence Blanchard: Bounce

Bounce, the title of Terence Blanchard’s new CD, could be viewed as a double entendre. It could signify (in the urban hip vernacular sense) his jump from Columbia to Blue Note, or it could serve as a modifier for the joyous buoyancy that propels the music here. Whatever the case, the CD shows the trumpeter/composer playing at the top of his game.

Blanchard doesn’t really try to reinvent himself by going into completely unexpected directions like some artists when they switch labels (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing), but he does offer a few sonic surprises in the form of guitarist Lionel Loueke and organist and Fender Rhodes player Robert Glasper. In Loueke, Blanchard not only has found someone to further enrich his harmonic and textural palette, he also has a subtle percussionist, who provides additional rhythmic fire, alongside ace drummer Eric Harland on compositions like the boisterous “Azania.” Loueke plucks some cuica-inspired riffs on the sensual reading of Ivan Lin’s “Nocturna.” He’s not on Bounce for cheap gimmicks though; his percussive effects make perfect sense in their contexts, and he shows great grace and restraint when he solos or accompanies. Glasper’s contributions don’t leap out as much, but they’re nonetheless effective, especially in the way he underscores “Azania” with soft eerie Hammond B3 chords or helps instill Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” with a nice R&B flavor.

For the most, on Bounce, Blanchard leads an ensemble that recalls those of one of his mentors, Art Blakey. A onetime ’80s “young lion,” who’s now a mentor himself, Blanchard called this fine ensemble “the latest generation of young jazz lions” at a recent Kennedy Center performance. He shares the frontline with tenor and soprano saxophonist Brice Winston, whose blustery tone and corkscrew phrases recall Joe Henderson’s, except that Winston projects a brighter, brassier sound. Together, Blanchard and Winston craft bracing unison melodies and stark harmonies, which often are driven forcefully by Harland’s crisp, swift drumming and Brandon Owens’ rotund yet pliant bass lines. Pianist and 19-year-old prodigy Aaron Parks hammers out hard montuno figure and dense chords on the tricky “On the Verge” (penned by the pianist), and then gently lays dreamy melodic passages on the suspenseful “Innocence.” Like Blakey, Blanchard allots plenty of room for each member to shine. And the young guns, certainly, deliver hard-swinging performances that brim with excitement, such as Winston’s soaring soprano on “Innocence” or Park’s expressive piano on the samba-driven “Passionate Courage.”

Ultimately though, it’s Blanchard, who shines brightest. His succinct solos are always filled with the right amount of rhythmic crackle and subtle nuance. Whether he’s firing off searing notes that seem to scrap the clouds, as on “On the Verge,” “Azania” or “Fred Brown,” or lowering the flames to candlelight flicker as on “Nocturna,” his solos gleam with clarity, emotional poignancy and rhythmic punch. In other words, they bounce.

Originally Published