"What makes people happy and glad to be alive?" To paraphrase Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, "Everyone experiences flow from time to time and will recognize its characteristics: People typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence. All of these optimal experiences add up to mastery, or better yet, a sense of participation in life, thus the meaning of life." The flow of music
From 1949 to 1975, Blue Note Records signed and/or recorded just about every trumpet player that mattered in jazz: Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Don Cherry, Blue Mitchell. Fitting then, that now that the label is enjoying an artistic and commercial renaissance, it's no mere coincidence that its current roster includes two of the most celebrated, influential and gifted trumpeter/composers to walk the planet since those halcyon days: Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard.
Two years ago, Blue Note released Blanchard's critically acclaimed album Bounce. This June, the trumpeter-composer's second label release hits the shops. Produced by the artist and four-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock, Flow heralds nothing less than the brilliant second act of Blanchard's already extraordinary career.
Flow is TB's rambunctiously heated answer to those unenlightened few who doubted that this chillmaster of the urbane film score (Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, Barbershop) could get down. Indeed, Flow not only showcases Blanchard's prodigious instrumental and composing skills; it reveals him to be both a shrewd judge of young talent and a bandleader of Milesian dimension and magnitude as well.
"I've worked at the Thelonious Monk Institute with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter for the last five years," says Terence. "We talked a lot, and the more we would have these conversations, the more they would help me grow immensely in terms of me having confidence in my own thing. We played together a few times and when it came time to produce this record, I wanted-needed-to have Herbie's creative ability and just his approach to work with. He has played with a bunch of people and he's done a lot of things. I mean, he's forgotten more music than I could ever know. It's been a life-changing experience." Extra points: Hancock joins the band on two tracks: "Benny's Tune" and "The Source." This is the first time since the 1987 CD, Dexter Gordon's The Other Side of Round Midnight (co-produced with Michael Cuscuna for Blue Note), that Herbie has produced a project other than his own.
Mixing-blending-elevating-dancing their way through Flow's ten compositions are six cats you may not know today but will most certainly be remembering tomorrow-Brice Winston on saxophone & Yamaha WX5; Lionel Loueke on guitar and vocals; Aaron Parks on piano; Derrick Hodge on bass; Kendrick Scott on drums; Howard Drossin on synth programming. "It's essentially the same band as on Bounce except for Derrick and Kendrick," muses Terence. "Kendrick understands the concept; he's the perfect fit. Derrick makes a huge difference. At the beginning of most of the solos, he'll lay down some kind of idea that will just change the direction of where we're gonna go. And he plays so many things between the phrases. Lionel is a visionary. Aaron's a very easy young man and he also has a lot of different ideas about what he wants to do with his with our music. Brice is probably one of the most underrated guys in this business. His brain is always working, always questioning stuff and thinking about what he wants to do next. Having a guy like that around is a great inspiration, a great motivation for me."
"Flow Parts I, II and III" are interspersed throughout the CD alternatively passionate, fulminous and mournful-sounding, this tonal triptych is the album's serendipitous dominant theme. "We were sitting in the studio and I said, "Man, we need another tune. Derrick started playing that rhythm on his bass and we just followed up on it. I played my solo, then when it got to Lionel it became a whole 'nother thing, y'know? At the end, Herbie suggested that this piece be broken up into three separate movements and spread across the record."
"Wadagabe" is a mini-suite at 16-plus minutes. The Intro is filled with billowing winds of synthesizer, congas, kora-like guitar plucking/fretting, disembodied voices and Lionel speaking in African tongues that evaporate into the main piece's swirling, ever-rising congress of thunder 'n' lightning drums/cymbals, pithy guitar-keyboard chordal counterpoint; with Brice's Yamaha WX5 (an electronic wind instrument) throwing tart soprano/wood flute spirals, feverish shamanic chants and Terence's fiery runs.
"Benny's Tune" and "The Source" feature Herbie's trademark pianism. The former is a darkly melodic, shimmering ballad sounding straight out of Herbie's early-'70s Mwandishi period; the latter, a rhythmically roiling yet harmonically soothing jazz waltz. The Latin-tinged "Wandering Wonder" gives each member a chance to shine brightly. "It fits into the concept of what this band has been doing but I wrote it back in the '80s," muses Mr. B. "I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but the band I had back then couldn't play it the way this band is playing it. The way these guys tackled the stuff, man, they play it like they're playing "Mary Had A Little Lamb!" Like second nature.
"Over There" is a heartbreakingly plaintive lullaby that is caressed, stroked and soothed to a poignant sweetness by TB's sumptuously emotive trumpeting. The ruminative "Child's Play" tastes of '60s-era Miles and '80s Woody Shaw yet feels totally modern Terence Blanchard circa 2005. The indigo, mood-swinging blend of Iberian-evoking, quiet-to-loud-to-quiet-again modal dynamics, soulfully ethereal keyboards and spine-shivering guitar extrapolations of "Harvest Dance" ends Flow on a triumphant note.
"What you hear on this record is the way we play live," opines Terence. "That's the thing about this band. What we're talking about is their musicianship. They find spaces to put things in spots that make sense. With this band, I just feel born-again! [laughs] It's because it's given me new life and just piqued my curiosity to work hard again and really try to grow and develop and just be an artist. I'm really having so much fun with this band."
Terence Blanchard was born in New Orleans on March 13, 1962. Picking up the trumpet in elementary school, he was also coached at home by his opera-singing father. In high school, Terence came under the tutelage of Ellis Marsalis. After graduation, he attended Rutger's University on a music scholarship. One of Terence's professors was so impressed by his talent that he brokered him a touring gig with Lionel Hampton's band.
In '83, Wynton Marsalis recommended his homeboy as his replacement in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Part of the Blakey legend was his ability to foster performances and individual personalities from the young malleable talents he brought into his fold. Blakey utilized and nurtured the improvisation and compositional ideas of his band members to solidify his own unique artistic vision. The legacy of the working band as jazz workshop is at the essence of jazz and Blanchard remains one of the few on the scene today who fully embrace that dynamic. Flow is a dramatic example of this theory put in practice.
Two years later, Terence and fellow Messenger Donald Harrison split to form their own quintet. In '90, TB departed to pursue a solo career. During his tenure at Columbia, both his soundtracks to Mo' Better Blues and The Heart Speaks were nominated for Grammy Awards. Signed to the Sony Classical label in 1999, the trumpeter/composer gained acclaim as a bandleader and scorer of movie and television soundtracks (including the Grammy nominated Wandering Moon and a Golden Globe nomination for his score for Spike Lee's The 25th Hour). It was the best of times and the worst. "When I was at Sony Classical, I had to do all those concept albums," he explains. "We had fun doing them and they were cool, but I always felt that that band never really got a chance to shine until we did Bounce, our Blue Note debut."
"Flow is just a logical extension of Bounce, really. You see, that's just a tribute to Blue Note. Now, I just feel like I'm back on track, like I'm back in the groove being a jazz artist. Exploring new territory that's really what we're supposed to do as artists. So I'm very happy about that."