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Anyone seeking to connect the dots between Terence Blanchard and Wayne Shorter, whose music Blanchard salutes on Absence, won’t struggle. Both apprenticed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, both were heavily influenced by Miles Davis, with Shorter playing in Miles’ Second Great Quintet, and they share a label home that has traveled from classic jazz to its current focus on artists all over the jazz map. But a penchant for musical fusion — Shorter co-created Weather Report — and a fondness for experimentation with genre, forms, and electronics, may represent their most significant commonalities.
Blanchard, who plays his horn and writes for small groups when he isn’t scoring Spike Lee movies or composing operas like the just-launched Metropolitan Opera production Fire Shut Up in My Bones, here brews a compelling sonic concoction. For his third release leading the electronics-heavy E-Collective, he brings in strings, collaborating with the experimental-minded Turtle Island Quartet. Split about evenly between Shorter compositions and originals by the participating musicians, the album is built on artfully layered electric and acoustic elements, and heady improvisations. It often feels cinematic, as if these tones and textures were merely building blocks for a larger story yet untold.
The tale that unfolds, though, is plenty engaging. Shorter’s melodies are stepping-off points: For “The Elders,” trumpet, piano, string, guitar and synth lines criss-cross over a heavy backbeat, while “Fall” begins with bass leading the way, and piano and strings responding before Blanchard injects gorgeous long tones into the mix. On “Diana,” which opens with three minutes of strings, the leader’s distinctive trumpet resembles a human cry as he battles a turbulent piano attack, the whole thing ebbing and flowing and the band breathing as one. Pieces by Blanchard and bassist David Ginyard take a similar approach, the former’s distinctive, effects-drenched horn the brightest color on an always fluctuating, oft-fascinating canvas. — Philip Booth
Featured photo by Cedric Angeles.