The world of ideas is an endless sediment deposit of old and new dreams, decayed thought and weathered craft, shifting endlessly in time. New soil is the first element of the jazz idiom — a music that demands immediate choice from an artist duty-bound to the cause of creation and the interpretation of sound as language.
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Terence Blanchard performs at the 2009 "Grammy Salute to Jazz."
Terence Blanchard performs at the 2009 "Grammy Salute to Jazz." Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Choices is the newest recording from Terence Blanchard, and upon first listen, it's another document of the evolution of the trumpeter and his current band of futurists — many of them plucked from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, where Blanchard reigns as Artistic Director. The Monk Institute performance program now resides at Loyola University in New Orleans because Blanchard brought it there. He also recorded this music at the Patrick F. Taylor Library, a 19th-century brownstone building with beautiful interior white oak carpentry and woodwork craftsmanship.
Kendrick Scott, the drummer, is one of the rhythmic ascendants in jazz, a music that demands a fresh set of metrics every time it's performed. Pianist Fabian Almazan, from Cuba, imports an understanding of the danzon as it is today, and as it was when it was an antecedent pulse in the habaneras that built jazz music in New Orleans. Derrick Hodge is among the most gifted bassists playing music today, blessed with a floating anchor mechanism that keeps this band from getting unhinged. Saxophonist Walter Smith, the group's newest member, is a strong improviser and searcher who takes a courageous stand when the music underneath him is in a perpetual state of tectonic shift.
Guitarist Lionel Loueke, who has launched his own career as a bandleader, returns to the Blanchard fold to add some relatively quiet textures. Bilal, a soul singer with a tremendous vocal range, contributes songs to the band's complete set of original music on Choices. Throughout the recording, Dr. Cornel West, an avowed fan of the "courageous engagement" that makes jazz a music of the spirit, functions as the lone voice of a Greek chorus, both in his understanding of the jazz musician's role in society and in his own knowledge of historical linguistics and philology. He's a true believer.
The more times you ingest this record, the more it becomes evident that Choices is Blanchard's compendium of decision-making — the choice to move home, to stay there after tragedy, to rebuild it, to raise a family there, to live as a member of the largest definition of community, to play music, to mentor the brightest young people in music, to be a steward for progress, to write a narrative, to leave a plan for succession, and maybe to provide some new soil for the next cycle.
As a bonus to the recorded music, be sure to listen to the live concert premiere of Choices from New Orleans, which you can download here. Or view the archived video.