J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Tale of God’s Will


A Tale of God’s Will (a Requiem for Katrina)
By Terence Blanchard
Blue Note


Much has already been written and said about New Orleans and Katrina, the nature of which runs the gamut from the inspiring to the ugly. By their nature, words are an imprecise, imperfect method of communication. Terence Blanchard’s Katrina-inspired themes from his soundtrack to Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke documentary, re-orchestrated and re-recorded on A Tale of God’s Will, demonstrate the advantage music holds in speaking directly to listeners’ emotions.

Even before Katrina, New Orleans was a city haunted by ghosts, and Blanchard gives those ghosts their say throughout Tale, starting with “Ghost of Congo Square,” known as the site of the Sunday celebrations of the slave population of New Orleans, but also as Blanchard writes in the liner notes: “where they displayed the severed heads of men who revolted against slavery.” It is a fittingly percussion heavy track, with the musicians chanting “this is a tale of God’s will.” Later, Blanchard’s trumpet speaks for the ghost of Hurricane Betsy (at the time the worst American storm of record, killing 76 Louisianans in 1976) and Brice Winston’s tenor animates the ghost of the flood of 1927 (still considered the worst in American history and inspiration for blues from Charlie Patton and others) in short interludes.

The meat of Tale consists of Blanchard’s adapted themes and contributions from his quintet, which fit together well, sounding like pieces of a unified whole. With “Levees” Blanchard expresses the calm before the storm through his mournful trumpet, in a piece that becomes increasingly darker and more turbulent. “Wading Through” speaks to the aftermath, introducing some motifs that reoccur throughout Tale, featuring pianist Aaron Parks.

“Ashé” may be the most hopefully note of Tale. Inspired by a Yoruban blessing, the beautiful composition by Parks is a stirring showcase for Blanchard’s rich trumpet sound. As on most tracks on Tale, “Ashé” is fully orchestrated for the strings of the Northwest Sinfonia, giving the session a lush sound, befitting its soundtrack origins, but in this case, not overwhelming the instrumental soloist.

Bassist Derrick Hodge’s “Over There” echoes Blanchard’s themes, with sweeping strings framing Blanchard’s burnished trumpet tones. Blanchard’s “Funeral Dirge” departs from New Orleans tradition somewhat, portraying the somber procession to the cemetery, but foregoing the joyous return. Tale concludes with Blanchard’s very personal “Dear Mom,” composed for his mother’s return to her flooded home as filmed for Lee’s documentary. Of all the tracks, it might be the most symphonic, with the strings coming into the forefront, nearly eclipsing Blanchard’s expression of loss.

Blanchard has been outspoken in recent interviews, expressing anger and resentment, but there is little rage in Tale. There is sorrow and grief, and occasionally a glimmer of hope in a rich program of music.

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