Terence Blanchard is a magnificent trumpet player with a huge reputation. Even if you’re not into jazz you may have heard his music on the soundtrack of films, including most of those directed by Spike Lee – including, memorably When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Lee’s 2006 powerful film about Katrina and its aftermath.
So it was quite something to be able to hear Blanchard perform live at Parr Hall in Warrington recently as part of a new project – piloted by The Band on the Wall – in which he had worked with some of the UK’s most remarkable emerging musicians, as a mentor offering a bunch of thirteen musicians an apprenticeship culminating in live performances around the northwest.
What resulted was an evening of sensational jazz in which Blanchard treated us to stellar moments of trumpet virtuosity, while the young musicians of the Inner City Ensemble, left to their own devices by Blanchard for a major part of the gig, proved an equal match in both their collective playing and in individual exchanges between instruments.
And what a lineup it was, including alumni of the Royal Northern College of Music, Chethams School of Music, Leeds College of Music and many more, not all of the musicians were from the jazz tradition. Terence Blanchard had created scores that broke away from traditional jazz or big-band arrangements and left nearly all the members of the Inner City Ensemble space in which to improvise and duet. The diverse instrumentation included French Horn, Bass Clarinet, Oboe and Tuba – as well as the more routine instruments to be expected in a jazz line-up.
Blanchard opened with a collective take on ‘Autumn Leaves’ before speaking a little about the project: asked to provide some original music for the ensemble to work on, he decided to offer a suite he had been asked to compose for the John F Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts in Washington DC. Bud, Not Buddy will be part radio play, part jazz concert, broadcast live from the stage of the Kennedy Centre in January 2017, an adaptation of Christopher Paul Curtis’s award-winning book set in 1936, in which 10-year-old Bud is sure about two things: he wants to find his father, and he is not called Buddy. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of his dad are a little unsure. The only clue she left behind is a flyer advertising Herman E. Calloway and his band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. With this and his trusty suitcase in tow, Bud sets off on an epic journey of discovery, set to the soulful sounds of jazz.
Having set the scene, Blanchard left the stage, and the remainder of the first set was taken up with the thirteen musicians of the Inner City Ensemble performing the Bud, Not Buddy suite. The line-up was as follows:
Michael Dawson – Tuba
Adam Chatterton – Trumpet
Chelsea Carmichael – Saxophone
Tom McCredie – Bass
Ashley Henry – Piano / Keyboards
Michael De Souza – Guitar
Diane Hammond – Clarinet
Sam Gardner – Drums
Aisling Palmer – Oboe
Amy Roberts – Flute
Kieran McLeod – Trombone
Chris Beagles – French Horn
Sam Rapley – Bass Clarinet
The suite opened with Ashley Henry’s piano and Tom McCredie’s insistent bass riff building to a crescendo driven forward by Sam Gardner’s drumming (which was magnificent throughout – his solo in the second half was one of the best I’ve ever heard). Another striking performance was that of Chelsea Carmichael on tenor sax: seated, she appeared to have no need to exert herself in impressive solos and exchanges with the equally impressive guitarist Michael De Souza whose solos were well-crafted and uncluttered.
There were some great exchanges between trumpet and trombone, while the woodwind section of oboe, clarinet and bass clarinet created a varied texture to the suite. At half-time, six of us who had come over from Liverpool were agreed that the show had exceeded all expectations, and that Blanchard had coached a group of brilliant musicians.
The second half was even better. Terence Blanchard was on stage throughout the set, taking the ensemble through a selection of tunes from his recent albums, including a song called ‘Social Justice’,which I think he said will be on his next album with his electric band, The E. Collective. ‘Don’t Run’ was written, Blanchard said, for the legendary bass player Ron Carter, and featured a recorded spoken introduction before offering opportunities for trumpet, trombone and flute to shine. Another outstanding moment came with a fierce bass clarinet solo in which Sam Rapley honked away on his ungainly instrument. All in all, a magnificent evening of virtuoso jazz performances.
Terence Blanchard & The Inner City Ensemble – live trailer
Terence Blanchard featuring The E-Collective Live at North Sea Jazz Fest 2015
- Grammy-winning jazz artist Terence Blanchard on inspiring the next generation of performers: interview with the Warrington Guardian