Cheers to Terence Blanchard for his interpretation of what saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter has given to music. Blanchard’s group E-Collective and the all-strings group Turtle Island Quartet, merged their talents to give Shorter’s compositions major props during a recent performance at the Kennedy Center. In addition to Shorter’s compositions, the two groups added their own compositions to present “Absence,” a tribute concert based on the album honoring Shorter.
For decades, Shorter has been a big influence on Blanchard and other jazz talents. Both are highly respected, multi-genre, award-winning artists. They have poured their hearts into composing deeply meaningful and soul-tugging sounds.
“I know Wayne has been a huge inspiration to so many of us,” Blanchard said in a pre-performance interview with The Washington Informer. “I wanted to make sure it is understood what he meant to everybody now, as opposed to waiting later.”
‘Absence’ Comes Together
Playing with Blanchard on trumpet and synthesizer in the E-Collective were guitarist Charles Altura, keyboardist Taylor Eigsti, electric bassist David Ginyard Jr., and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. This was the E-Collective group. The Turtle Island Quartet consisted of David Balakrishnan and Gabriel Terracciano on violin, Benjamin von Gutzeit on viola, and Naseem Alatrash on cello. The two-group concept was reminiscent of drummer Max Roach’s Double Quartet. The 1980s collaboration joined Roach’s quartet with the Uptown String Quartet founded by his daughter Maxine Roach.
“Absence” the title song composed by bassist Ginyard, opened the concert. That was the foundation for bringing the audience into Shorter’s world. Next was “The Elders” a Shorter composition recorded by Weather Report, the group Shorter co-founded with Joe Zawinul, in 1970. “The Second Wave” was a dynamic all-strings showcase by Turtle Island Quartet violinist and leader Balakrishnan. The quartet played hard, moving seamlessly between rapid strumming, changing rhythms, plucking strings, then laying back in focused drifting. The “Absence” concert was a brief but intense tutorial on the genius of Wayne Shorter.
“We didn’t want to just do his material; we wanted to show how much he influenced us,” Blanchard said about the song selections for the concert and album. “The day before we started the session, we went to his house and hung out with him. That really inspired some of the guys in the group because they had never met Wayne before.”
Juggling Balls of Music Projects
Trumpeter/composer Blanchard and Shorter are kindred spirits as their careers show extensive range and similarities. They each have won numerous Grammys and other awards. Both played in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and have been in bands with Herbie Hancock. Shorter and Hancock were in Miles Davis’s second great quintet. Along with trumpeter Davis, Shorter, and Hancock, the quintet included bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams.
Last year Shorter and Blanchard had operas receiving critical acclaim. Shorter’s composition Iphigenia, with librettist bassist/composer Esperanza Spalding, was presented last December at the Kennedy Center. In September 2021, Blanchard’s second opera “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” with a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, opened the Metropolitan Opera season. That opera was based on journalist Charles Blow’s autobiography.
Blanchard is much sought-after for composing film scores. He has more than 40 film scores to his credit. Most recently, he composed the music for “Woman King” and a remake of “Father of the Bride.” Further, he has two Academy Awards nominations for “BlacKKKlansman” and “Da 5 Bloods.”
Shorter and Blanchard’s musical talent is undeniable. Whether or not you attended the Kennedy Center concert, get “Absence,” Blanchard’s salute to Shorter filled with love.
Follow Terence Blanchard on Instagram: @terence_blanchard and Twitter: @T_Blanchard