Multi-Grammy-winning artist Terence Blanchard returns to Seattle’s Jazz Alley for six shows in four nights September 3-6 with a new band and a new sound. The New Orleans trumpeter and composer, with his hot, young, hungry E-Collective — keyboardist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Donald Ramsey, drummer Oscar Seaton — intends on pressing the social statement and the R&B fusion vibe of their May 26th release, Breathless, on Blue Note Records.
While the 13-track Breathless is a lot of fun to listen to — a dance party in a record — the title came straight from the front pages of newspapers. Last year in July, Eric Garner became the symbol of racial injustice when the asthmatic died after New York City’s finest kept him in a 19-second chokehold for a minor offense, allegedly refusing to listen to this man’s cries for help. Garner’s case ignited a firestorm among activists and concerned citizens crossing racial lines, resulting in protests all over the country with the chant, “I can’t breathe,” serving as a constant reminder of what can go wrong if you’re black.
“That chant has become a very poignant message, creating a very powerful metaphor that explains a lot about how a certain segment of our society feels right now,” Blanchard explained in a Cuepoint blog. “If you think this is a minority, a small crowd of disgruntled citizens, you have no idea what’s coming down the road. To see the reports that came out of Ferguson, to see a police department deliberately target people in a country that puts ‘the land of the free’ on everything it can print. You know it’s a lie. It feels like every week there’s another YouTube video going viral of police brutality, or civil rights being sent back to the 1800s.”
On the other side of that record is the fun in the R&B grooves. Blanchard would be hard-pressed to call Breathless strictly jazz by any means. But dance? For sure. He said he’s been dying to make a record like this, infusing all his musical influences growing up, vibing to a wealth of cross-genres, from Jimi Hendrix and Parliament Funk, to Prince, D’Angelo, and the Weather Report.
As much press as Blanchard’s received for the social statement of Breathless, anyone who takes a listen will automatically know this record is about more than what happened to Eric Garner and continues to happen to the Garners of this world. For one thing, the music is slamming; as in, you want to get up and rock some beats with your booty.
Patrick Jarenwattananon got the lowdown as recently as August 5th for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert intro. He captured exactly what this funky jazz group was going for: “The heavy and the party recently came together for a week-long run at a jazz club in D.C., though the mood was much more on the party side when the E-Collective stopped at NPR headquarters. The mood was relaxed and jovial from the time the group stepped into the lobby, with Englishman Chris Bailey supplying plenty of backbeats on our house drum set — though there was a moment toward the end of the set when Blanchard casually explained the project, setting up a lyrical, almost elegiac solo. This music was a modern update on jazz fusion, sure, but also one where we dance to ward off despair.”
Credit Blanchard’s exquisite taste in music and this idea rolling around in his head for quite awhile — to find the right players for this righteous new sound.
The musicians on E-Collective came together at the right time for this very moment. Donald Ramsey is a high school classmate, who just happens to play the bass like the godfather of soul, laying blessings upon New Orleans stars like Dr. John, Marva Wright, and Irma Thomas.
Young and different, guitarist Charles Altura (Chick Corea’s The Vigil) heats his strokes like nobody else, and Blanchard saw potential when he came across this guy online. Altura goes into every gig and recording like a lab rat high on experimentation; he’s wanted and wants to jam with all the potential out there — the Quintet on his next recording includes Grammy-nominated pianist Gerald Clayton (Roy Hargrove Quintet), bassist Harish Raghavan (Kurt Elling), drummer Justin Brown (Ambrose Akinmusire), and trumpeter Shane Endsley (Kneebody).
And who hasn’t heard of Fabian Almazan, a fiery Cuban pianist on the rise? Almazan’s from Blanchard’s Quintet, his piano player since 2007.
Covering all the bases and rounding out the E-Collective has to be Oscar Seaton, a constant accompanist for Ramsey Lewis, but well-versed in all parts of music, from gospel and jazz, to the adult contemporary of Boz Scaggs, George Benson, David Sanborn, Grover Washington Jr., Brian Culbertson, and Kirk Whalum, the classically melodic soundtrack of Dave Grusin, to the surprising rock-to-jazz hits of Joe Sample.
With personnel like this, Blanchard can’t lose. While recording their new album Breathless, the New Orleans artist realized these guys came to play, galvanizing him to push harder. They saw his idea, and raised him several more. Blanchard is notorious for pushing boundaries himself — he’s one of the forefathers, lending his own kind of genre-defying music to worthy, cross-over causes (A Tale of God’s Will [A Requiem for Katrina], Champion).
Breathless does the same — but in a quiet, revolutionary manner — sweet-talking you into moving to the beat, breathing in the funk, and thinking about the sobering subject matter as a natural course of action.
Expect the party and the social statement — “dance to ward off despair” — as this group stops in Seattle for its major Breathless tour. Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective are just as excited to take you to the bridge, and the dance floor.