Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard is a throwback to the socially engaged jazzman of the 1960s: as concerned with politics and society as he is with scales and improvisation. His last album dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on his hometown of New Orleans. His new CD, "Choices," ponders even broader questions about free will and personal responsibility.

David Was has this review.

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DAVID WAS: The first-trumpet chair in the jazz world is one of the more daunting pieces of furniture to occupy, with names like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis having claimed it before.

Horn man Terence Blanchard may have been overshadowed by Wynton Marsalis over the past few decades, but his ambition and artistry deserve consideration from even the fussiest of jazz fans. And Blanchard's new album, "Choices," is proof yet again that he belongs among that elite fraternity.

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WAS: Like Miles and Louis before him, Blanchard is a threat as both trumpeter and composer. He has scored some 50 films, including Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina documentary for HBO. Blanchard still calls New Orleans home. And "Choices" continues his preoccupation with place as inspiration for his musical and philosophical musings.

To express his ideas more eloquently, he enlisted Dr. Cornel West of Princeton to add pithy verbal snippets to the album. The title track, "Choices," affords West the opportunity to proffer some of his poetic musings on art and life.

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Dr. CORNEL WEST (Princeton University): And there's something about the humanity, (unintelligible).

WAS: West's impassioned words are sometimes lost in the mix, but his churchy cadences do fit the music hand in glove. Blanchard responds to the call with a round, burnished tone that recalls the intimacy and gravitas of Miles Davis while maintaining a voice all his own.

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WAS: Languid ballads abound on the album, but there are some upbeat, highly danceable interludes as well.

West African guitar phenom Lionel Loueke sits in on a few tracks and adds a funky, polyrhythmic feel to "A New World," proving that Blanchard can stretch into cousinly genres without sounding like he's speaking down to his audience. After all, jazz is a feel, not a jail.

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WAS: Above and beyond the ornate sentiments of Dr. West, Terence Blanchard proves that sound itself is capable of expressing the ineffable. His enviable gifts as a melodist are evident throughout and finely straddle the line between the decorous and the deeply felt.

Yes, they are beautiful and easy on the ear, but never do they descend into easy sentiment or heaven forbid, smoothness. His composition, "Touched by an Angel," is as much about silence as it is about sound, and shows the trumpeter proudly taking up what Miles Davis left off some 40 years ago.

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BLOCK: David Was reviewed "Choices," the new CD by Terence Blanchard. You can hear full concerts by Blanchard, one at the Village Vanguard in New York and one in his native New Orleans. They're at the new

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