Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review: Terence Blanchard and the Portland Jazz Orchestra team up for fabulous concert

Review by Angela Allen

When Terence Blanchard, trumpet in hand, asked the Arlene Schnitzer audience to chime in on a chorus of “A Tale of God’s Will,” bassist Derrick Hodge smiled sweetly.

There was little chance that the audience, as ardent as it was, could capture the deep emotion that New Orleans’ Blanchard did when he composed this music based on his hometown’s tragedy. Bets are, “A Tale of God’s Will” will stick around in the archives for years. Portlanders were truly lucky to hear it.

Along with backup from the Portland Jazz Orchestra, Blanchard’s quintet played an almost two-hour performance Friday as headliners for the 10-day Portland Jazz Festival featuring Blue Note label artists.

A compact, smooth-talking trumpeter with a style that mixes utter confidence with compassion, Blanchard won a Grammy this year for “A Tale of God’s Will, A Requiem for Katrina.”

The 13-track song cycle includes such profoundly melodic pieces as “Wading Through,” “Mantra,” “Funeral Dirge” and “Dear Mom,” all of which the quintet performed like scared music. The sound track was written for Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke” after the 2005 hurricane.

If anyone can write for movies, it’s Blanchard. He transports. He induces sadness, rage, melancholy, compassion, joy, prayerfulness – all the things that a movie sound track should do. Even those who don’t cry at tragic operas, would have wept Friday.

The soaring orchestral quality of the music and Blachard’s insistent impassioned playing was enough. But his quintet, dressed in suits and ties, played with such precision, formality and respect for one another that the show was far more a hallowed performance than a free-wheeling jazz gig.

The quintet included the impish Fabian Almazan, drummer Kendrick Scott, and the ever-attuned Hodge on stand-up and electric bass. Walter Smith, the tenor saxophonist and a finalist in the Thelonius Monk Institute’s prestigious 2008 sax competition, was debuting with the quintet. He fit in like a glove in his pale grey suit, never grandstanding though the music allowed it.

Paul Mazzio conducted the Portland Jazz Orchestra that added fulsomeness to the music with strings, woodwinds, brass and timpani. Mazzio is an ace trumpeter himself. He obviously understood the piece. Too bad the concert hall wasn’t as full as the music.


Angela Allen, who lives in Portland, writes about music, food, art, wine, architecture and style. She was a recipient of grant to study music from the National Endowment of the Arts and Columbia University School of Journalism. Find her work at

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