Last night the first full season at the SFJAZZ Center got under way with the first of four concerts led by trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Selections were taken from Magnetic, the album released this past May that marked Blanchard’s return to Blue Note Records. Most of the artists from this recording joined Blanchard for this series of sessions that will continue through this coming Sunday, September 8. These included Brice Winston on tenor saxophone, Fabian Almazan on piano, and 21-year-old Joshua Crumbly on bass. Justin Brown played drums (instead of Kendrick Scott on the recording); and, if we are to believe Blanchard’s patter, did so without rehearsal. The evening also featured two of the “guest artists” on the recording, guitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.
This was a promising gathering of talented musicians; but, sadly, the performances never really caught the spark of in-the-moment engagement. Blanchard seemed more interested in his extended monologues about the musicians in his group, but there was little sense that this was a group. Indeed, when Coltrane came on stage and Winston left, he led off with some highly ornate inventions; but, when Blanchard took up his trumpet, things sounded as if he was there playing an entirely different composition. Loueke was, by far, the most interesting, combining traditional fingering technique with the use of electronic amplification to explore novel sonorities, complemented by the use of a sampler to develop thicker textures.
Perhaps Magnetic is one of those albums that was conceived and realized through studio techniques that do not lend themselves readily to the immediacy of the performance experience.