Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In Review---Terence Blanchard's Requiem for Katrina

Terence Blanchard A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)
Blue Note

So many natural disasters have occurred after the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Yet, with each storm, each flood, each drought or other catastrophic event, we have the opportunity to further awaken ourselves. We can ask ourselves what we can do to live in balance with the planet. And we also need to ask ourselves what we are willing to sacrifice or jettison in order to live in balance? One thing we don't want to do is to turn our backs to musicians with messages about what went wrong and what could go wrong.

Musically, New Orleans presents us with so many musical legends. The birth of jazz in the hands of Jelly Roll Morton happened in New Orleans. A variety of musical styles hail from New Orleans and when people visit the city, music is one of the main attractions that grabs their attention. But, now the Crescent City has become the focus of dialogues about racism, earth climate changes, poverty, inequities and changes unforeseen by so many. And we are talking about the people still in conversation about the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Others have silently walked away, perhaps shrugging their shoulders or sighing, "oh, what can be done? Anyway, it is in God's hands now." And my response to these people, "you are God's hands."

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who hails from New Orleans, and who designed the music that appears on Spike Lee's HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke, is still engaged in conversation about the hurricane aftermath. And in fact, when some of the shock of the event faded, the composer-musician found himself expanding upon his musical themes from the soundtrack which gave birth to his latest recording on Blue Note, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina).

However, Blanchard did not just expand upon a few themes and leave it at that. He invited members of his band to share their Katrina-inspired compositions. And then, in the recording sessions which took place in Los Angeles and at Bastyr University Chapel in Seattle, more magic transpired in the form of, the Latin explosion, Ghost of Congo Square, the beboppin' Ghost of Betsy (another hurricane that struck New Orleans), and the snappy Ghost of 1927, (another hurricane). These short interludes act as the string that holds the pearls, the longer compositions.

And those luscious pearls ripe with human emotions running the gamut between an outpouring of rage, mercy, resignation, compassion, and willingness (to rebuild), present us with some extraordinary musicianship. Blanchard whose horn becomes a treasure chest of the above emotions is joined by Brice Winston on tenor and soprano sax, Aaron Parks on piano, Derrick Hodge on acoustic and electric bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Zack Harmon on tabla (on Mantra Intro and Mantra). Then an orchestra is brought in to add more color to this vibrant palette.

The recording starts out with Ghost of Congo Square which teases its listeners with images of happier times from New Orleans' past. Levees follows with its heartbreaking and sultry tones. Blanchard's crystal clear notes pierce through any veils of denial. Blanchard's horn playing, ripe with emotion and technically brilliant, recall Miles Davis' work of the late 50s and early 60s. The chamber strings which also add their stinging tears to the mix, join Blanchard's weeping horn. We are now long past nostalgia and into a gut wrenching reality.

But Blanchard does not come across as a cloud of despair nor heavy-handed. He offers up condolences and respect to the residents of New Orleans, while burying the dead on Funeral Dirge. And the album ends with another respectful tribute to the trumpeter's mother who lost her home in the hurricane. She is shown returning to her damaged home in Spike Lee's documentary, (which I have not seen yet).

And while I have taken notes for every track on this recording, I would just like to say, that Blanchard captures on this audio disc, what reporters and cameras cannot capture with their images and verbal narration. As an insider and as a top-flight musician, Blanchard uses a wide range of human emotions that take his listeners deep into the experience of loss, of redemption, and compassion. After all, musical expression is one of the only forms of communication that touches deeply the heart and soul of all creatures. So stay in conversation about how we can live in balance and how we can help in rebuilding a city, while never forgetting to honor the ghosts and lessons of the past.

For more information visit Terence Blanchard's site

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