Tennyson: Playing through Process

The crowd at Motorco Music Hall grooved along with Tennyson, deeply attuned to the myriad frequencies and rhythms being processed and punctuated before our eyes. Digital jazz pulsated through the crowd in pleasant bouts – when eyes weren’t closed, they were alight – captivated by the layers and levels The Canadian sibling duo brought to the venue.

Luke and Tess Pretty started playing music when they were nine and seven years old, respectively, playing jazz cover shows until deciding to share another dimension of their musical imagination with their hometown of Edmonton, Alberta in 2012. In late 2015, Tennyson released the Like What EP, filled with compositions telling stories through percussion, melody, and measured arrangements of space.

Tennyson has an interesting approach to creation and collaboration, charting new territory all the time armed with novel equipment, skillful musicality, and unbridled commitment to the daunting/invigorating creative process. Luke shared this insight on mistakes and creating with Yours Truly: “I noticed something recently,” says Luke. “Part of the reason why it was so hard, is because there was a fear of, like — if there’s a section that you know you want to make, but you haven’t started yet, there’s a part of you that’s scared to start. Because you feel like maybe now is not the best time to make it, or something. Or, tomorrow, maybe in the morning, you could really get that section to sound right. But I realized — the last song in the album is the only one I made in a week, where the other ones were two or three months. But that week was kind of like, ‘Whoa, you can just make it. You don’t have to worry about it.’ And same with lyrics. You could just write them. And then kind of fix it. And it’s good. It’s probably better if you’re not worried the whole time you’re making it.”

Like What? opens with the words of Oliver Sacks: “we see with the eyes, but we see with the brain as well. And seeing with the brain is often called imagination.”

The video for the title track is an exploration of process in itself. Director Fantavious Fritz played the song for Nikita – a 12-year old girl who has been blind since birth – and recorded her commentary, then created the video using the visuals that she described. The result is an engaging trip through a dynamic space, with rhythmic auditory cues and visuals that capture life and light playing in spite of limitations. You’ll rethink the way you experience music.

Tennyson’s tracks invite Sacks’ “seeing with the brain”, playing with different spaces and guiding the senses to place ourselves in the music. The Art of Cool festival at large took that on wholeheartedly, appreciating the plurality of experience and the effect of letting sound take over the space.

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.