Terence Blanchard 

Choices

Several factors distinguish New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard from other jazz bandleaders. First and foremost, he's generated a cult of celebrity because of his Grammy awards, his directorship at the Thelonious Monk Institute, and his soundtracks for filmmaker Spike Lee (including the extraordinary Hurricane Katrina requiem, When the Levees Broke). But having name recognition is less important than making superb music, and in that respect, Blanchard is beyond reproach.

Because of his stature, Blanchard also can afford to indulge in weird experimentation, even if it doesn't result in coherent albums. His new joint, Choices, is a hodgepodge of absurdly talented, incredibly hip musicians (guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Walter Smith III, Cuban keyboardist Fabian Almazan, soul singer Bilal, and Princeton professor Cornell West) that doesn't quite make sense in its totality. Take the ballads with Bilal. Both sound lovely by themselves, but probably belong on a different album. Blanchard's solos are, of course, phenomenal, but the music itself leaves something to be desired — no immediately catchy melodies, nothing too outré. Not to mention that a lot of these heavily orchestrated tunes sound uncannily like his Spike Lee scores.

The title may in fact refer to deep, existential decision-making (i.e., the choice to return home after Katrina), but none is evident therein. Blanchard's real choice, it seems, was to privilege hipster cache over artistic depth in order to mollify a younger, broader audience. On that level, he'll probably succeed. (Concord)

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