Terence Blanchard and The E-Collective “Rocks” Spoleto Festival USA

By Hakim Abdul-Ali

Saturday night, June 3, 2017, at the College of Charleston’s famous outdoor Cistern was an invigorating and simmering place to be at if you were in attendance while witnessing Terence Blanchard and his The E-Collective band. It was all of that and a bag of chips as the hip and colloquial street wise folks would say.

Terence Blanchard

This acclaimed composer and musician and his awesome congregation of groove keeping musicians put on a celestially smooth show at the Cistern that literally defied descriptions. They “rocked” the joint in no uncertain terms.

All you could say about the group’s late evening concert was that it was a “New Orleans in The Lowcountry” happening, one in which few could or would argue that simply was out of this world. Grammy Award winner Mr. Blanchard and his extremely musically tight ensemble played progressively wide-ranged music that was dynamically strong in the best of musically coordinated measures.

The E-Collective band for the evening consisted of New Orlean’s own Mr. Blanchard on trumpet, Winnsboro, South Carolina’s David “DJ” Ginyard, Jr., on bass, Cuba’s Fabian Almazan, Chicago’s thumper on drums Oscar Seaton and from St. Louis, Missouri, Matt Sewell on guitar. More about Mr. Sewell later in the article.

The immutable concert began shortly after the 9 pm announced starting time and, believe me, Terence Blanchard featuring The E-Collective band “cooked” as they presented what I term new age New Orleans soul and intrinsic stratospheric funk.

The far-reaching band started the evening with “Hannibal,” a Marcus Miller piece that was written for Miles Davis. It was an atmospherically delightful tour-du-force as the band members, especially drummer Oscar Seaton and pianist Fabian Almazan, added nasty funk and solid rhythms to the charged ambience of what was to come.

Next on the musical menu was the spontaneous “Chaos” followed by the improvisational “Unchanged,” a fierce rhythmic memento of highs and lows highlighted by “DJ” Ginyard, Jr.’s baa grooves and the gripping “Soldiers.” These tunes, infected by Mr. Blanchard’s unique trumpet voice and symbiosis, invoked a sense of musical imperishability reflecting the depths of what innovative and progressive jazz is and will continue to become in the future.

 The next tune, featured a member of Mr. Blanchard’s personal staff, New Orlean Tondrae Kemp, who was invited up to skat sing and rap along with the band to a song called “American Gangster.” Mr. Kemp’s voice is energetically vibrant and the message of “American Gangster” resonated with the audience as it was the only vocal piece in the group’s concert playlist.

 After that was a new composition by Mr. Blanchard entitled “Dear Jimi” featuring the dazzling accompaniment of 19-years-old Matt Sewell, a  student of Mr. Blanchard from the Berklee College of Music. Get this, the thing that has to be mentioned about this young musician is that he was (only) subbing for the evening, and that gig that was his very, very first professional one, with of all of one rehearsal with the band at sound check to his credit.

 His performance was truly outstanding, and Mr. Blanchard in a casual banter with the audience introduced this baby-faced youngster with an encouraging sense of pride of being that left everyone in the audience feeling warm and supportive of this youthful musician. Again, believe me when I tell you that young Matt Sewell smoked on the guitar, and you’ll definitely be hearing about this young up and coming virtuoso in training because he’s that good. The kid’s amazing!

 The evening’s playlist concluded with the harmonious and spirited “Cosmic Warrior,” an audience pleaser if there ever was one and the evening’s alluring encore, “Talk to Me.”

Last Saturday’s Spoleto Festival USA 2017 concert may have taken place in Charleston, South Carolina, but, in essence, when Terence Blanchard and The E-Collective left the Cistern stage after their last tune, you knew that the syncopated sound of New Orleans’ music, forever to be honored and remembered, was definitely in the house.

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard and The E-Collective Band performing at their June 3, 2017, Spoleto Festival USA concert at the College of Charleston’s Cistern. Photo: Mikah W. D’Kamera

Terrance Blanchard featuring The E-Collective were musically splendid in every aspect of their superlative presentations. As presenters and  ambassadors of the unique ever-evolving New Orleans sound, they “rocked” the joint, and that’s about all that needs to be said.

    -The Terrance Blanchard Interview-

I had the pleasure of interviewing this celebrated composer and conscious performer prior to his concert on last Saturday, June 3, 2017. One of the initial things that I observed about this responsive brother is that he’s very much concerned about his city, people in general and what’s going on in the world.

From the recent Confederate statues removals in New Orleans to the importance of advancing music education for the youth, this composer extraordinaire isn’t afraid to speak openly about what’s going in the world. You need remember that this is the brother who’s composed many of legendary film maker Spike Lee’s more notable movies’ film scores, including “Malcolm X,” among numerous others.

Who can forget Hurricane Katrina and the affects/effects it had on New Orleans? In Mr. Lee’s powerful HBO documentary, “When Levees Broke: A Requiem,” about the hurricane and its aftermath, it’s to be noted that Mr. Blanchard appeared in the film talking about his childhood besieged home.

His musical pieces for Mr. Lee’s historic HBO documentary would later be the inspirations for his Grammy Award winning album, “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina).” This unparalleled musical genius is a renaissance thinker, shaker and mover who’s more than a laissez faire brother. He’s a man who’s aware that he, nor we, can’t afford to sit by the wayside and expect changes to “just” occur.

No, this consummate composer /musician is factual and upfront with his views, which are consummately presented from intuitive and intellectual cauldrons of awareness, without political cliches or ties. Terrance Blanchard is really more than music, which is only a limited means of his ways to express his universal respect for all peoples of all ethnic diversity religions.

That comes across when you talk and listen intently to what he’s really saying, and I truly can say that this man is as authentic as is his music. I like Terence Blanchard, both as a musician and as a man, because, even with all of  his obvious musical fame and notoriety, he’s genuinely centered, aware and committed, positions we could learn from.


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