While some bemoan the fact that there have been no "major" developments in jazz in some timeand go so far as to cite that as proof jazz is dead or, at the very least, dyingthey're missing the point. With the seemingly infinite number of sources that are being adopted and adapted into jazz contexts these days, what's really happening is that a multitude of artistspossibly more than ever before, as jazz has grown to be a truly global, albeit distinctly marginalized concernare moving jazz forward from a variety of angles, and in small increments rather than broad sweeps: jazz as an evolutionary form rather than a revolutionary one.
There's nothing especially new about what trumpeter Terence Blanchard is doing with Flow. The blending of various cultural influencesin this case African, Spanish, and Brazilian, as well as urban rhythmswith open-ended improvisation, harmonically complex forms, and greater use of modern technology has been done before (and continues to be explored) by artists as diverse as guitarist Pat Metheny, fellow trumpeter Wallace Roney, and Norwegian keyboardist Jon Balke.
What makes each artist interesting and worth investigating, howevereven as they all move jazz, step by step, towards a new kind of fusion that takes it further away from being a strictly American-centric formis what they do with it. These artists may all be evolving on a parallel plane, but their own personalities and perspectives lend distinct complexions to common multidimensional goals.
Returning from Blanchard's last record, Bounce, are saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Aaron Parks, and guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke, augmented this time with bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott. Loueke's greater role on this record suggests that Bounce was only beginning to explore where Blanchard ultimately wanted to go. While Loueke's acoustic guitar playing at times displays a folk-like innocence, he's equally capable of more advanced harmonic support, as he does on the three versions of the groove-inflected "Flow" that show up throughout the disc.
This is also the most democratic group Blanchard has ever assembled. Everyone contributes at least one song to the album, ranging from the Afro-centric rhythms of Loueke's "Wadagbe" to Scott's contrapuntal ballad "The Source" and Parks' Spanish-inflected closer, "Harvesting Dance." And while the majority of the writing lends to complexity, the music breathes and there's plenty of space for loose and spirited interplay, unlike saxophonist Miguel Zenon's latest disc, Jibaro.
Flow is arguably the most heavily-produced album in Blanchard's discography, but producer Herbie Hancockwho also plays on two tracksmanages to find the perfect consonance between orchestration and open-endedness. And Blanchard has never sounded bettersharp-toned, he's equally disposed towards gentle lyricism as he is stratospheric flights of imagination.
Flow may not be overtly innovative, but its distinct way of drawing from and combining its variety of sources makes it perhaps Blanchard's most fully-realized statement to date.
Personnel: Terence Blanchard: trumpet, synth programming; Brice Winston: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, EWI; Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Herbie Hancock: producer, piano (,7); Aaron Parks: piano (2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11); Derrick Hodge: bass; Kendrick Scott: drums; Howard Drossin: synth programming (11); Gretchen Parlato: vocals (8, 9).