From second line processions to above-ground mausoleums to a religion rooted in voodoo and Catholicism, New Orleans culture has long embraced death even before death came blowing in on August 23, 2005. Two years since, the cycle of ruin and regeneration continues, and Hurricane Katrina is as much a part of the city's fabric as Mardi Gras hedonism. Such artists as New Orleans jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard now court the storm as their muse.
Blanchard's new requiem, A Tale of God's Will, couples his quintet with the forty-piece orchestra Northwest Sinfonia. In this wrenching album, the trumpeter emerges from a long electric phase that followed his late-'80s collaborations with Donald Harrison and informed the soundtracks he wrote for Spike Lee. Here, he returns to a more classical sound, combining lonesome trumpet solos with pregnant orchestral arrangements. The four tunes that animate this album "Levees," "Wading Through," "The Water," and "Funeral Dirge" spawn from a single motif, originally composed for Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke (hence the melodramatic string cadence). Amid them Blanchard sprinkles three blues-oriented "Ghost" songs, the best of which is the opener, "Ghost of Congo Square," which features the handclap rhythms you'd hear in spirituals or old prison songs (the same ones used around the campfire in Glory). Blanchard occasionally veers into sentimentality, but given the subject matter, that's to be expected. It's still the most important album he's produced in a decade. After all, scoring She Hate Me is one thing, but scoring Katrina is a tall order.
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