Terence Blanchard’s first appearance at the Vanguard in five years combined the no-nonsense tightness of a working band with the looseness of an inspired blowing session. Blanchard’s sextet is certainly one of today’s best straight-ahead bands, giving Roy Hargrove’s, and for that matter Wynton Marsalis’s, a serious run for their money. Joining Blanchard on the frontline were two marvelous saxophonists, Brice Winston on tenor and Aaron Fletcher on alto. The rhythm section consisted of the stupendous, Herbie-esque pianist Edward Simon, bassist Derek Nievergelt, and the increasingly ubiquitous drummer Eric Harland.
Most of these cats appear on Blanchard’s new record, Wandering Moon (Sony Classical). Promoting the record was ostensibly what brought the group to the Vanguard for the week, but Blanchard and the guys did not sound like they had business on their minds. They were there to play the hell out of the music, and that they did. Opening with "Luna Viajera," the sextet practically levitated off the bandstand, weaving inspired solos around the slow, hypnotic structure of the tune (a bar of four and a bar of six, followed by three bars of four). They followed with an off-the-cuff, fast "Autumn Leaves" that showcased the burning frontline — especially the sharp-dressed Blanchard himself, who swung with all the fury he could muster. Clearly, all that time writing movie music hasn’t diminished his trumpet chops a bit. The set wrapped up with a latin-based ballad that featured the leader’s trumpet and a medium-slow blues that featured the excellent Nievergelt on bass and Winston again on tenor. Blanchard took up the mic following Winston’s brilliant solo and told the exhausted saxophonist, "I think you said it all." Winston shook his head in modesty and smiled, but Blanchard, and the audience, were amply assured that the young, relatively unknown tenor man is going places.