When trumpeter Terence Blanchard unveiled his current group at the Kennedy Center a few years ago, he had trouble wiping the smile from his face. The band, with its youthful energy and multi-cultural interests, consistently elevated the level of his playing, inspiring and surprising him at the same time.
"Flow," Blanchard's new CD, is proof that those salutary effects haven't worn off despite some personnel changes. A worthy follow-up to the ensemble's previous release, "Bounce," "Flow" is more multifaceted than its title suggests, embracing modal harmonic forms as well as flat-out swing, southern soul grooves and West African beats, acoustic textures and synth-triggered shadings. The title cut, though, serves as the album's spine. Divided into three parts and punctuated by other performances, it finds the ensemble pared to a quartet, exploring everything from clattering blues to brassy exultations and Crescent City funk.
Blanchard isn't exactly self-effacing on this session. His horn boasts its customary bite and clarity, especially on the sweeping coda "Harvesting Dance." What's more, he's surrounded by players with distinctive voices, including saxophonist Brice Winston. Yet the primary focus is on ensemble performances, even when pianist Herbie Hancock, who produced the album with the Grammy-winning trumpeter, contributes to a pair of soulful, minor-key interludes, "Benny's Tune" and "The Source."
More typical of the group's expansive tonal palette and far-reaching influences is "Wadagbe," a 16-minute suite composed by the band's West African-born guitarist Lionel Loueke. The piece is subdued and tumultuous by turns, colored by vocal chants, burnished harmonies, acoustic guitar riffs, fitful rhythms and a pair of soaring improvisations by Winston and Blanchard.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Friday through Sunday at Blues Alley.