Terence Blanchard – Flow – Blue Note – vinyl

Terence Blanchard – Flow – Blue Note  (2005 BST 78273/2014 B0020926-01) Re-mastered stereo vinyl, 73:26 ****:

(Terence Blanchard – trumpet, synthesizer programming; Brice Winston – tenor & soprano saxophone, Yamaha WX5; Lionel Loueke – guitar, vocals; Herbie Hancock – piano; Aaron Parks – piano; Derrick Hodge – bass; Kendrick Scott – drums; Howard Drossin – synthesizer programming; Gretchen Parlato – vocals)

Terence Blanchard is an important part of the new jazz resurgence. After stints with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and Art Blakey Jazz Messengers, he became an in demand sideman and pursued a successful career as band leader. Along the way, he became the most prolific jazz film composer, ever. He has collaborated with Spike Lee on many films, including When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts. A New Orleans native, his music embraces a variety of stylistic nuances.

As part of the Blue Note 75th anniversary, Terence Blanchard’s Flow has been re-mastered to vinyl. Blanchard seems intent on establishing a personal statement with an eclectic group of songs with inventive arrangements. Drawing on New Orleans soulfulness and African roots, he collaborates with his fellow musicians to create unpredictable, harmonic music. The title cut (written by West African guitarist Lionel Loueke) is actually three tracks spread over different album sides. It starts with a trio (bass, drums and trumpet) approach that injects a moody, blues resonance. Blanchard nurses the melody with wandering hypnotic vibe. “Flow, Part II” is edgy in an avant-garde way with strange guitar tones and synthesizers. The electronic effects are prevalent on the final part. The African influence infuses Side One on “Wadagbe” (including “Wadagbe Intro”). Brice Winston’s soprano saxophone adds an exotic shading and counterpoint to the trumpet runs. There is a variety of chanting and vocalese throughout the album.

Producer Herbie Hancock makes two significant contributions on piano. On “Benny’s Tune” he brings a lyrical, melodic current to counter the rhythm section. Blanchard’s sensitivity to melody structure is on display. “The Source” has Brice Winston (tenor saxophone) and Blanchard swapping harmonies and offering intriguing solos. The rhythm section maintains a steady pulse. The combination of styles is reminiscent of mid-seventies fusion. Blanchard is versatile on trumpet.

Post-bop energy and rhythm transitions make “Wandering Wonder” (written by Blanchard) a complex swing number. Piercing trumpet licks are offset by an extended piano solo by Aaron Parks. Tenor sax and trumpet join at the end. One of the more harmonic pieces is bassist Derrick Hodge’s poignant “Over There”. Following a delicate piano, the tenor occupies the melody lead and is subsequently joined by Blanchard, who has an innate talent for playing unobtrusively with other musicians. There is an acoustic gospel resonance that is punctuated by Blanchard’s haunting solo. The ensemble deliberately builds the overall texture, and eventually unites in cinematic mode.

Flow has many up tempo jams. “Child’s Play” has great drum fills and progressive rhythms from Kendrick Scott. This track also features a potent chemistry between Blanchard and Winston. The finale is an exotic multi-dimensional composition by pianist Parks (Blanchard is comfortable sharing writing duties with his band mates). There is a menacing, at times passionate drum solo that is preceded by a jagged, distorted electric guitar solo. Like much of Flow, the band exhibits an attitude that is daring. They combine dark imagery with complex musical contexts. It is difficult to classify this genre, but good jazz would suffice.

Blue Note’s vinyl re-mastering is excellent. Within the layered mix, precise tonality (piano, guitar, even a tambourine) and natural aural warmth is captured. The trumpet and saxophones are rich, not shrill.  Jazz fans can now add a bona fide post-fusion classic to their collections.   [The Amazon link is only to the CD version, not the vinyl…Ed.]  


Side 1: Flow, Part I; Wadagbe (Intro); Wadagbe
Side 2: Benny’s Tune; Wandering Wonder; Flow, Part II
Side 3: The Source; Over There; Child’s Play
Side 4: Flow, Part III; Harvesting Dance 

–Robbie Gerson

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