From his expansive work composing the scores for Spike Lee films ranging from the documentary 4 Little Girls to the epic Malcolm X, as well as his own discography of recordings such as A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), 2018 USA Fellow and five-time Grammy-winning trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard has been a consistent artistic force for making powerful musical statements concerning painful American tragedies – past and present. With his current quintet E-Collective he addresses the staggering cyclical epidemic of gun violence in this country with his new album Live, 7 powerful songs recorded live in concert that both reflect the bitter frustration of the conscious masses while also providing a balm of emotional healing. With a title that carries a pointed double meaning, the album is an impassioned continuation of the band’s GRAMMY-nominated 2015 studio recording, Breathless.
The music of Live was symbolically culled from concerts performed at venues in three communities that have experienced escalating conflicts between law enforcement and African American citizens: The Dakota in Minneapolis (near where Philando Castile was pulled over and shot by a cop on July 6, 2016); The Bop Stop in Cleveland (near where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police on November 22, 2014); and the Wyly Theatre in Dallas (near where police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patricio Zamarripa were assassinated while on duty covering a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest on July 7-8, 2016). The E-Collective’s Live project condemns gun violence of all manner whether against profiled citizens of color or targeted members of law enforcement.
Discussing the origin of E-Collective, Blanchard states, “I didn’t put this group together to be a protest band. We started out wanting to play music to inspire young people that didn’t want to play jazz to play instrumental music on its highest level. In this computer age, we saw too many kids playing music but not trying to learn theory or master their craft. However, while we were on tour in Europe, Mike Brown got shot. Trayvon Martin had already been murdered. And back then it seemed like these shootings were happening every month. That’s when I felt we had to stand up and make a statement with our 2015 album, Breathless [named in honor of Eric Garner who pleaded in vain to a pile of police officers with their knees in his back that he could not breathe]. After touring that music for two years, we couldn’t just let it go. What would we look like as artists doing a record like Breathless then come out with some other shit totally devoid of consciousness?”
Experimental, electric and exotic, E-Collective consists of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Charles Altura on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano and synthesizers, Oscar Seaton on drums, and new addition David “DJ” Ginyard on bass.
“This band is an example of the revolution that is taking place,” Blanchard explains. “The pianist Fabian – born in Cuba, raised in Florida - has his own record label, Biophilia, that’s devoted to making the planet green. Most people are trying to make money but that’s not where his focus lies. The bassist David, from Greensboro, South Carolina, is a very talented church boy. He doesn’t preach or wear it on his sleeve yet he walks tall in his confidence everyday. The guitarist Charles looks like a hard rocker but he’s a brilliant Stanford alumnus who studies anthropology - sits at the piano and plays Chopin after a show. And the drummer Oscar, who grew up playing gospel in church in Chicago, has been with Lionel Richie for 16 years. When you look at the conglomeration of us all from different walks of life, look at how we come together and create something harmonious. We are what the promise of America is supposed to be.”
Indeed, throughout the album, Blanchard’s horn does not play the traditional role of a lone voice above the fray. Instead, he plays his horn through an effect that gives it the sound of a group of people standing up for their rights in ‘Marleyan’ harmony. “The vibe I wanted is a sound like a gathering of people chanting en masse for the communal demand of justice.”