REVIEW: Terence Blanchard and the e-Collective at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham

Terence Blanchard
Photo credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk

Terence Blanchard and the e-Collective
(Jazzlines at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 29 March 2019. Review and photos by John Watson)

When Terence Blanchard points his amplified horn at the floor and blasts his high notes, it’s as though searing bolts of liquid lightning are shooting from the bell. Underpinned by thunderous bass and drums, this is one heck of a musical storm.

The New Orleans-born trumpeter and composer brought his e-Collective project to the CBSO Centre for the only UK date on an international tour, and he also took part in an educational project at the Birmingham concert hall, arranged by the organisation Jazzlines. The band had just flown in from the Netherlands and now moves back to the USA for dates in Texas and New York City. I first heard Blanchard live in concert with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, shortly after he had taken over the trumpet chair from Wynton Marsalis in 1980 – in those days, quite some shoes to fill.

But stylistically, Blanchard – who had earlier cut his musical teeth in the Lionel Hampton Orchestra – was clearly his own man, and already a bold, confident improviser.

So much very fine music has followed, ranging from three albums with Blakey to many bebop collaborations and, in more recent times, to film music. His score for Spike Lee’s 2018 film BlackkKlansman won him nominations for Best Original Score at the Oscars, the Grammys and the BAFTAs.

When I heard Blanchard’s e-Collective project at the 2016 Gateshead International Jazz Festival, I was hugely impressed. The music had so much energy, so much spirit – a terrific concept. The group’s Blue Note first album, Breathless, seemed to me to be over-produced, but the follow-up Live superbly conveyed the stripped-down dynamic quality of the music.

So it was a joy to hear the band live again, this time in Birmingham, and with much the same line-up as the Live album: guitarist Charles Altura, bass guitarist David Ginyard Jnr, and drummer Gene Coye, and with pianist Taylor Eigsti replacing Fabian Almazan.

Opening with the recorded words of Dr Cornel West (as on the Live album), Blanchard swiftly dug into the repertoire from the Breathless project, including Hannibal, Kaos, Unchanged, Soldiers, Can Anyone Hear Me, and Choices. Altura’s tube-toned guitar soloing had effortless clarity and melodic elegance, while Blanchard played relatively short but fiercely projected blends of long notes and high blasts, the tone constantly shaded by harmoniser and echo effects. He also dabbles on a small electronic keyboard, somewhat superfluously when such an articulate pianist as Eigsti is on hand and taking too few solos.

In fact, for the encore – Dear Jimi – Blanchard put the trumpet aside and only played the keyboard as Altura held the theme, with its echoes of Stone Free.

But it is those earlier trumpet blasts which will stay in the memory for a long time.

I’m very much hoping that Blanchard finds a new project for this rather marvellous band and that Breathless and Live will mark the start of a magnificent musical journey.


L-R: Taylor Eigsti, David Ginyard Jr.,Terence Blanchard, Charles Altura
Photo credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk

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