Thursday, September 13, 2007
Trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s latest release, A Tale Of God’s Will (a requiem for Katrina), is a collection of pieces written for and inspired by the Spike Lee HBO documentary, When The Levees Broke.
Augmented by The Northwest Sinfonia, Blanchard’s small combo creates music that goes beyond the aural spectrum. Even without Lee’s images, the listener not only hears but also feels the pain and suffering.
Blanchard, who was born and raised in New Orleans, brings a personal strength of will to the project. His orchestral colors have never been as eloquent or precise. The way he works clarinets in with string lines, adds low brass to sustained double bass tones, clearly articulates oboe melodies or mixes wordless voice with large ensemble as in “In Time of Need,” shows a level of mastery above his already prodigious proficiency.
The first piece on the disc, “Ghost of Congo Square,” sets the stage with music associated with New Orleans pre-jazz. “Levees,” a solemn and mournful trumpet prayer, follows. Opening like a church-house moan, a single trumpet prayer calls out. Blanchard’s trademark half-valve slides help build his lines into increasingly stronger statements that preach out seeking redemption and acknowledgment at the same time. His final trumpet proclamation fades exquisitely at the zenith of its longing.
These two powerful works open a disc that might leave those looking for a jazz album disappointed, as the emphasis is on color and line throughout. Those looking for a strong statement of music’s ability to reach beyond sound, however, will find much to listen to again and again. —Thomas R. Erdmann
BEN HARPER AND THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS | Lifeline | Virgin/EMI
Ben Harper takes a ton of flak for being a great emulator of his heroes like Marley, Hendrix and Redding while letting his own personality get lost in the mix. This tendency is diminished on Harper’s eighth studio effort, which sounds more self-assured and focused than ever.
Recording over seven days in Paris on the heels of a nine-month tour, Harper and his Criminals crew are in full sync on rolling Southern rocker “Say You Will” or the smooth R&B Motown flow of “Fight Outta You.”
They occasionally slip into derivative territory—Beggars Banquet-era Stones in particular—but strong solo material saves Lifeline near the end. The city’s romanticism creeps in on “Paris Sunrise #7,” a beautiful guitar composition, and the one-take closing (title) track that Harper nails with equal parts fragility and composure. —Jason Kelle
M.I.A. | Kala | Interscope
It’s a shame this album didn’t come out two months earlier. It would’ve been the party record of the summer. Kala has all the neon-funk energy of its predecessor, 2005’s Arular, with an added kick. M.I.A. and co-producer Switch have thickened the machine-gun 808 beats of Arular with fuzzed-out synths, Afro-beat samples and animal screeches.
Opener “Bamboo Banga” bridges the gap between Arular and M.I.A.’s new, more diverse sound. Still in revolutionary mode, she shouts the cryptic chant, “I’m knockin’ on the door of your Hummer, Hummer,” like an insurgent protesting a foreign presence.
The most striking quality of Kala is its weird factor. “Jimmy” sounds like the love child of Françoise Hardy and a Daft Punk robot. On the slow-burner “20 Dollar,” M.I.A. combines the “Blue Monday” bass line with the chorus of “Where Is My Mind?” while satirizing the influence of Western pop culture in Africa (“Price of livin’ in a shanty town is high/but we still like T.I.”)
If more hip-hop artists took Kala-like chances, the world would be a better place. —Corey Licht