This is Blanchard’s second great project since his comeback to Blue Note two years back with the “Magnetic” session I reviewed in back in 2013. Despite the apparent lack of recordings he’s always busy and in the meantime even recorded his first ever jazz opera. I would die to hear that, honestly. Hopefully someone is going to issue this, Please!!
Here, he has assembled the band E-Collective to explore a world of groovy fusions, funky harmonies and R&B plethora. From the previous squad he only kept his keyboardist Fabian Almazan, an incredibly gifted young musician. Along with Fabian, the band features Charles Altura (guitar), Don Ramsey (bass), and Oscar Seaton (drums). The sugar-icing on this eclectic cake is soulful vocalist P.J.Morton. Right from the opening bars, their version of Les McCann’s standard Comparing to What rides straight over the unsuspecting listener’s head and takes no prisoners. With the phrasing of the trumpet howling and the band following in a damn funky manner, P.J’s vocal brings straight to mind the memory of Prince with The Revolution at their best. It’s not just the phrasing, but also his voice has a similar timbre.
I’ve not yet mentioned the choirs. These come as a surprise for the jazz fan, but after this initial shock one realises that Terence has jumped into territory he never explored before. Many of the greatest jazz icons, whose paths he is following did though: Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones or the great Miles Davis, his most-revered Master to whom he himself is often compared. Hence I can easily understand this natural progression. And as always honest he comes after with his own See me as I am. This slows down after it’s initial fury and brings the spacious floating sound of Terence’s trumpet as we all know it drifting over the nice and groovy backdrop provided but the band. That smoothly moves into Everglades, the longest piece of the session which builds with excellent pace and passion bought about by a twisted and hypnotic interplay between the leader and Fabian Almazan.
The title song Breathless, brings us to another check point. Here it becomes clear that this rebellious project is not made for fun and dance only, but it also carries a much more serious message. The title originates from the tragic story of Eric Garner, the alleged victim of brutality by USPD and his now worldwide recognised words “I can’t breathe “. That makes it involved in an entire human movement which this tragedy triggered and which is a part of today’s American fight for equality and freedom.
Confident Selflessness which follows brings a Funkadelic-like bass stomp dialogue with Scofield-like quilter figures. It is a very peaceful tune with lovely piano interludes bringing a break after the previous tension. The following composition Shutting Down, written by Terrence’s son Jrei Oliver completes with its lyrics a menu of songs with meaning on this album. Next, to P.J’s pop-ish version of Hank William’s I Ain’t nothin’ But Time.
There are also heavier moments present a la carte, leaning towards the progressive rock genre, like the propulsive Cosmic Warrior with its wall of overridden guitar sound or the marching rhythms of Soldiers.
We also have the protest song Talk to Me, with an arrangement including original samples from Dr. Cornel West’s speeches interspersed with groovy rap poetry.
There’s even some musical slapstick on the track Tom & Jerry, where the interplay between guitar and piano voices bring to mind a crazy fight between those famous cartoon characters!
All together this is a versatile and eclectic project, which really is easy to enjoy and more time spent really listening to it reveals ever greater intellectual layers.
Still, even for the dance-floor there is plenty here that is fit for purpose. As always with Terrence I like his adoration for tradition but with the rare ability to make it sound fresh, not even getting into his spectacular skills as an arranger. The instrumental tracks need no further introduction. It is difficult to handle controversial subjects in the way they did here. To me this is an absolute revelation and the most important thing in American popular music since the Rap movement in the eighties which ultimately spawned groups such as Public Enemy.
The meaning is the same here, just with different texture.