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According to a recent concert review in the New York Times, Blanchard told the audience at Jazz Standard that he wouldn’t be playing material from that popular record—presumably because this week he released a new album called Choices (Concord). There are specific things about it that drive me nuts, but it’s been years since I’ve enjoyed anything from him this much.
The album is steeped in philosophical heaviness, thanks to the presence of Cornel West, who waxes eloquent about race and creativity during the intros and outros of certain pieces, speaking in highly musical, deeply rhythmic cadences. Flexible R & B singer Bilal, who’s long fancied himself a jazz vocalist, also turns up on a handful of cuts, and for the most part he’s an asset, not a distraction—except maybe when he sings, “And I went to the bathroom and your toothbrush wasn’t there / Where’s your clothes and where’s your shoes?” on “When Will You Call.”
Blanchard only wrote three pieces here, including the rather directionless and gloppy ballad “D's Choice.” It was a smart move for him to farm out material to the other members of his young, talented band—drummer Kendrick Scott, bassist Derrick Hodge, Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan, and exciting alto saxophonist Walter Smith III. Though he’s not officially a group member and didn’t write any music for the album, Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke also makes meaningful albeit atmospheric contributions.
Blanchard sounds hungrier here than he has in a long while, and the multilinear frontline interaction is occasionally exciting, like at the end of “Hacia del Aire” or throughout “A New World,” where the group cuts loose with real fire and takes some risks—a stark contrast to much of Blanchard’s recent output, which has been suffocatingly controlled.
(When I wrote this post I hadn't yet realized that Blanchard's four-night stand at the Jazz Showcase—which was to have started tonight—had been canceled. But I figured it was still worthwhile to discuss the new album, even without the hook of a local gig. Pianist Willie Pickens will be playing at the Showcase instead.)