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Cinematic Choices

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard's forward momentum.

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Terence Blanchard's newest CD, “Choices,” was inspired by advice he received from the piano jazz legend Herbie Hancock. “He heard me being down, really negative,” Blanchard says. “And he told me that life was full of choices you have to make and live with. You shouldn't belabor the mistakes, just learn what not to do and move on. I haven't looked back since.”

Even if you weren't paying attention, you've probably heard trumpeter Blanchard, who will appear Oct. 30 at the University of Richmond. He's composed the soundtracks for more than 40 films, and played on many others; he's featured on well over a hundred recordings, 18 of those as a leader. Along the way he's won a dozen Grammys, a Golden Globe and an Emmy. If you were paying attention, you saw him in February at the Landmark Theater with the Monterey Jazz all-star band.

The New Orleans native emerged on the national scene in the slipstream of his slightly older childhood friend Wynton Marsalis as one of jazz music's young lions of the 1980s.  The movement's mainstream, swing-based formality was promoted as a respectable, conservative alternative to the era's commercially lackluster free and fusion jazz.

But with the blush of youth and that brilliant marketing launch decades behind him, Blanchard's forward momentum has continued. In part this is because of his fluent but always intimate playing, his inventive compositions, and perhaps mostly his deep belief that music matters. Recorded at New Orleans's Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the compositions on the new “Choices” have a cinematic flow — conceptually welded with a string of spoken samples from the endlessly provocative Cornell West. 

The Princeton professor, actor, theologian and civil-rights activist early on paraphrases Beethoven that “music is deeper than philosophy” and proceeds to philosophize in his erudite and folksy style in front of, behind and in the spaces between the playing. Some of the rhetoric's questionable: Some would argue that the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, however monumentally inept, is not quite tantamount to slavery and lynching. But it all fits with West's posture as a “jazzman in the world of ideas” — talking himself into the air and then improvising back to solid ground.

On CD it makes for unified listening. “It is a complete journey, not just a collection of short stories,” Blanchard says. “The approach definitely comes from my work on films, the arc of telling a story. In the best movies there are many variables, but the overall context is maintained.”

Onstage, the material evolves. “It has been interesting to see the impact of Dr. West's words,” Blanchard says. “Even in places where they don't speak English — like Brazil — people respond.” In performance the horn player triggers some samples of West as part of the composition, and unleashes others when it seems appropriate. “It is always hard because we don't know what is going to happen. It's all part of the magic of taking that musical journey. It is a bit of a gamble,” he acknowledges. “But with highly trained and creative musicians it is a low risk.”  S

The Terence Blanchard Quintet plays Friday, Oct. 30, at the University of Richmond. Tickets are $34, with discounts for seniors, children 12 and younger and UR students. For information call 289-8980 or go to http://modlin.richmond.edu.

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