Terence Blanchard & the E-Collective: Groove As Advocacy

Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective’s headlining set at the Art of Cool Fest began with a sense of drama that was only amplified by the elegance and grandeur of the Carolina Theatre. Blanchard’s trumpet seemed to howl with anguish while the E-Collective quartet maintained a hard-edged groove underneath, creating a palpable tension and forward momentum that was infectious. With nods to jazz fusion and Miles Davis’ electric explorations of the ‘70s, a dose of R&B, blues, and funk, and the urgency of music with a deeper message, Blanchard and company gave the audience a great deal to consider.

Although the music they performed that night had its feet planted firmly in the now, the Grammy-award-winning Blanchard is no fresh face to the jazz scene. In fact, anyone who’s enjoyed a Spike Lee film from Jungle Fever on has heard his compositional style. Since 1991, he has had a successful solo recording career playing traditional jazz and now heavier, more groove-based music with his group E-Collective. Breathless, his first album with the E-Collective, is his heaviest yet. Though the music came first, it became clear to Blanchard that he had to speak out about police brutality and the deaths of so many African-Americans as a result, and the music naturally took on that voice.

The group was first conceived by Blanchard and drummer Oscar Seaton during the scoring of Spike Lee’s Inside Man. It took them eight years, but they finally came together while America was embroiled in the high-profile police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. “Once we got to it, we were in Europe, and we noticed that there was a lot of stuff going on back in the States—a lot of crazy stories about violence with African-American youth and law enforcement. We took note, and all of the meanings of the songs started to change. That became the basis of the album,” Blanchard said ahead of Art of Cool Fest.

He goes on to speak more about impacting youth through musical exposure, saying “Part of what we’re trying to do is reach […] kids, to let them know if they want to play an instrument there’s a way to do it at a high level that can be very rewarding. It’s all about trying to bring people together, trying to show people other options.” During a press interview at Art of Cool, he elaborated more on why he thinks young people are very important to the future of music: “The thing I love about working with young folks […] is that there’s some young creative minds out there that are astonishing. […] And the thing that blows my mind is that when you give them the tools [they can do incredible things.]”

Seeing cuts from Breathless performed live only confirmed this, as up-and-coming bandmates Charles Altura (on guitar) and Fabian Almazan (on piano) have unique and masterful voices on their respective instruments. Altura’s guitar seems to soar and blaze with a bite to rival any contemporary jazz guitarist today. Almazan’s fleet fingers have Cuban roots, and his touch on the piano and synth alike is reminiscent of jazz and fusion greats like Joe Zawinul. “Fabian is probably one of the great young talents of his generation,” Blanchard has said of Almazan. “Once people really hear what he’s about and what he’s doing, they’re gonna be enriched.”

Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective will continue to tour in support of Breathless, their next show will be in Seoul, South Korea.