TERENCE BLANCHARD "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)" Blue Note

Terence Blanchard turned his
Terence Blanchard turned his "When the Levees Broke" compositions into an instrumental suite. (By Jenny Bagert)
Friday, August 10, 2007

TERENCE BLANCHARD"A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)"Blue Note

WHEN SPIKE LEE WAS MAKING "When the Levees Broke," the four-hour HBO documentary about governmental failure in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the director turned to his longtime composer Terence Blanchard. The trumpeter not only created several striking musical themes for the TV movie but also became a key character when Lee filmed Blanchard accompanying his mother on her first, emotional visit to their flooded house and later leading a funeral parade through the devastation of the Lower Ninth Ward.

On his new album, "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)," Blanchard tries to transplant the music and emotions from Lee's film into a 13-movement, 73-minute instrumental suite that can stand on its own with no visuals and virtually no words. He succeeds because his melodies are so plangent in their sadness, anger and resilient affection, because his harmonies expand those moods to the epic proportions befitting the theme, and because his New Orleans quintet captures that town's distinctive rhythmic spirit.

Only four of the 13 tracks -- "Levees," "Wading Through," "The Water" and "Funeral Dirge" -- come directly from "When the Levees Broke," and those are reshaped for a purely auditory experience by the restrained but resonant string charts and by the expanded solos by the leader and his bandmates: saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott. Each of the sidemen adds an impressive composition about his own experiences with Katrina, and Blanchard adds several new numbers, including a tribute to his mother and three meditations on New Orleans's past: the slave gatherings in Congo Square and the floods of 1927 and 1964.

The result is a triumph, an extended jazz suite that maintains continuity from section to section, evokes a tragedy without words and inspires emotions worthy of its subject.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Thursday through Aug. 19 at Blues Alley.

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