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Bounce (2003)

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Lionel Loueke

Trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has come further in a sense than any of the 1980s Art Blakey alumni. While Wynton and Branford Marsalis may have higher profiles, Blanchard is the player who has most improved as both a soloist and an ensemble player. He is an excellent bandleader whose great taste in arrangements and sidemen are reflected on nearly all of his recordings. But most of all, Mr. Blanchard has become one of jazz's most sophisticated and erudite composers. Combining elegance; sleek, shimmering surfaces; and lopping, limpid ambiences with wonderful harmonic and melodic invention -- not to mention a great cast of soloists -- there's no wonder why Mr. Blanchard is Spike Lee's chosen soundtrack composer. On Bounce, Mr. Blanchard and his septet (which includes the brilliant pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Brice Winston, drummer Eric Harland, B3 and Fender Rhodes maestro Robert Glasper, guitarist Lionel Loueke, and bassist Brandon Owens) explore various sides of the Latin music experience while not making a "Latin" record per se. Blanchard seems to be interested in the colorations of rhythm on his own modern creative and post-bop experiments in texture, structure, and musical elasticity. And these tunes do stretch into melodic arenas he's never explored before. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the achingly beautiful "Passionate Courage," where a long, slow opening statement form the horns moves in linear fashion to engage both piano and Rhodes at different junctures as they wander at a luxuriant pace through shaded key signatures and satiny harmonic figures, and engage counterpoint without actually delving into it. On "Azania," Owens' bass creates the Afro-Cuban motif that is gently funked up by Glasper on B3. Finally, the African side of the rhythm becomes dominant with chanted vocals by Loueke and the tune moves into Abdullah Ibrahim's brand of township jazz, while never straying from the blues all that much. Remarkable. Ultimately, Bounce is the most perfectly paced of all of Blanchard's recordings. He divides his time between tempos, but always comes back to silence to ground himself and begin over. In terms of his lyrical lines, they have never been in a sense more simple or more sophisticated (check out the blissed-out harmonics in "Innocence"), where the individual players become identified by their ensemble contributions first and then as soloists. Mr. Blanchard's own soling has never been more restrained or more profound. In his economy of phrase, entire sound worlds become evident that were never noticeable before. On Bounce, Blanchard proves that he is the trumpet player, composer, and bandleader who is moving jazz, albeit at his own pace, in new directions that encompass both a new look at Western musical systems and never leave the human heart out of the equation. This is his masterpiece thus far and a high-water mark for anybody else to follow. ~ Thom Jurek