Terence Blanchard, band fill Skidmore auditorium with jazz

The Skidmore Summer Jazz Institute launched one of its highlight shows of the new season Tuesday nig

The Skidmore Summer Jazz Institute launched one of its highlight shows of the new season Tuesday night with composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

Blanchard has done numerous scores for Spike Lee’s movies, including Lee’s most recent documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” about Blanchard’s hometown of New Orleans. He played “Levees” as part of the opening piece that collectively lasted for one hour, at which time he asked the crowd, “So how you doing?”

The show opened with “Transform,” an older original that started measured and calculating with Blanchard moving slowly and reaching apprehensively for new ideas. He raised it up into a voluminous crescendo with the band, which he and sax player Bruce Winston did every time they soloed.

Accompanied by the rhythm section of Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan, Derrick Hodges on bass, and Texas drummer Kendrick Scott, who stole a good bit of the show, the group displayed the technical prowess you expect to back a world-class jazz leader.

The first tune stretched around 25 minutes. Its complex structure and melody moved studiously forward, offering no foot-tapping or finger-snapping moments, particularly the final section where Hodges played a slow meditation on the tune via his stand-up bass.

Without stopping for any silence, they continued with a drowsy, swaying blues tune that was a pleasure to absorb compared to the previous number. Blanchard played a wonderfully sad, emotional solo here. He started with an expression of defeat, ascended into conflict, a touch of anger, and eventually he blew through his horn an expressive sense of power, filling the small auditorium.

Scott followed on sax with an aggressive, almost disorderly solo but safely within the security of the rhythm section. Drummer Scott stormed Almazan’s piano solo a few times, stepping out in front of him and on top of him, but it was brief. While it may have distracted, it brought a new energy to the solo each time.

Fifty minutes into the show, there were still no words, no eye contact between band members or audience, and barely any physical movement, yet the rapport was strong between performers and audience.

He played little, or none, of his hard-bop, really no straight-ahead swing. Instead, he offered moody, interesting composition with a feel of African, sometimes Latin, fusion.

Blanchard’s trumpet sound can be described as a medium thickness, not unlike his own physique: not fat, not thin. He’s developed through an array of experiences, including the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, and then the replacement to Wynton Marsalis in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He has since scored over 50 films, creating his own legacy of composition, style and tone.

The 350-seat hall packed a standing-room-only audience along the walls and aisles, and unfortunately numerous people were turned away due to full capacity. The Grammy award-winner will be back at Skidmore as a visiting artist-scholar, where he’ll be on campus for a period of each semester next year. It’s likely there will be opportunity for those who missed him this round to catch him later on.

Categories: Life and Arts

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