The loyal couriers of the U.S. Postal Service are duty-bound to deliver in times of rain, snow, sleet or hail. I guess the same can be said of jazz musicians.
With flights snowed in at New York, the band of famed trumpeter Terence Blanchard hopped a train to Philadelphia, where air troubles continued. Finally boarding a much delayed flight, the band barely got to Memorial Hall in time on Friday.
“When they say the show must go on, they didn’t tell the airline companies,” Blanchard joked during his headlining set at UNC’s 33rd Carolina Jazz Festival.
Terence BlanchardMemorial Hall
Arts verdict: 4 of 5 stars
But luckily for the crowd in Chapel Hill, the arduous journey didn’t hinder the outfit’s excellent musical delivery. In tune with each other to an absurd degree, Blanchard and his band of piano, upright bass, drums and tenor saxophone constructed a dense, enveloping style of modern jazz heavy on instrumental prowess.
A five-time Grammy Award-winning musician as well as a Golden Globe-nominated film-score composer, Blanchard played a set full of material from his 2009 record “Choices.” It was a well-constructed program that balanced thickly structured harmonics with enthralling instrumental solos.
Bassist Michael Olatuja began the set with a brooding solo that fleshed out into haunting melody for Blanchard to walk out to.
Using pedals at his feet, the band leader called up spoken word snippets from philosopher and civil rights activist Cornel West that frame “Choices” as an album.
With West’s gravelly delivery wrapped around political issues in the “Age of Obama,” the recordings lent power and focus to the ensemble’s instrumental chops.
From this base, Blanchard displayed his incredible technique. Going from quiet, slinky notes to blaring eruptions with amazing ease, his notes shone with feeling.
Sometimes it was too much. Straining his instrument to the limit for a multi-tonal effect, some of the solos became abrasive. But when it worked, it was as impressive as it was engaging.
The late start added extra fun to the show. Before Blanchard, a group of UNC jazz students and faculty played with festival artist-in-residence Ivan Renta on tenor sax. It was a great addition, delivering more great music while enforcing the festival’s educational focus.
Making the best out of what could have been a frustrating night, Blanchard and the wonderful musicians who played with him rewarded the patient crowd with a lush evening of music.
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