Terence Blanchard is not the kind of musician who cranks out a new record every six months. He is an expert craftsman who has paid close attention to details. In his playing, each note fits, and there’s always polished nuance flowing through his music. On his new record, Jazz in Film, we hear the juicy lyricism that we have come to expect of him. The title may sound dull as rice cakes, but there’s nothing dull about the music on the disc. Here, Blanchard plays jazz compositions taken from classic American films. Playing music for film can be a hard pill for jazz musicians to swallow because there isn’t a lot of room for improvisation, but he shows us how important good music is to the aesthetic success of a film.
Blanchard opens the record with the music from A Streetcar Named Desire. This number sets the tone. It has an Ellingtonian energy of pure swing and powerful solos by Donald Harrison and Steve Turre. On the music from Chinatown and The Subterraneans, Blanchard’s playing is evocative of such old school trumpet players as Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison. He emphasizes every note and plays in a low register. As he and saxophonist Joe Henderson match wit and strength on Anatomy of a Murder, they blow with enough speed and force to shatter a concrete structure. Throughout this record, Blanchard’s solos are engaging, but he sounds best when he blows with Henderson, whose leave-no-heart-untouched approach makes for a perfect marriage to Blanchard’s silky phrasing. For the first time in years, Henderson blows with the kind of power he flexed on his classic Blue Note recordings of the early 1960s.
Jazz in Film is unlike most jazz records trumpet players are releasing today. Most lack Blanchard’s grace. In other hands, the music on this album could easily be mistaken for "mood music." Instead, Blanchard shows us how good jazz should sound.
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