Trumpeter Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective's Absence is dedicated to saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, who for health reasons has been obliged to retire from performing, at least temporarily. Some people celebrating their 88th birthday, as Shorter did on August 25 2021, might not welcome being the dedicatee of an album with such a title. They might consider a more appropriate choice of words to be Presence or even I'm Feeling Fine Thanks For Asking. But you never know with Shorter who is, in many respects, in a category of his own and who, one hopes, had Absence run past him in advance by his label mate. Perhaps we should be thankful Blanchard's album is not titled Mr Gone, after Shorter's high school nickname.
Anyway, there it is. Absence is dedicated to Shorter for "being brilliant" and one cannot argue with that. Shorter has been shining a light as a soloist and as a composer and arranger since the late 1950s under his own name and as a featured sideperson; Art Blakey's The Jazz Messengers (19591964), Miles Davis' second great quintet (19651968) and Weather Report (19711985) are among the latter highlights.
Blanchard has long had a penchant for string ensembles and the plugged-in E-Collective is augmented on all but one of these twelve tracks by the Turtle Island Quartet. The addition of a neo-classical string quartet to Blanchard's digital-age quintetthree of whom, including Blanchard, double on synthsworks well. That said, the least effective track is the strings-only "The Second Wave," a busy but inconsequential piece written and arranged by violinist David Balakrishman, which runs just shy of eleven minutes; too long, particularly so on a forty-six minute album.
On the upside, Blanchard's electro-acoustic arrangement of Shorter's "Fall," first heard on Miles Davis' Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968), is so striking that one cannot help wishing Absence was mostly, if not entirely, composed of Shorter pieces (more than half the tracks here were written by Blanchard and his colleagues, and are too often borderline overblown). For among modern reimaginings of Shorter's early work, this "Fall" is up there with the Robert Glasper-led Blue Note All-Stars' treatment of "Masqualero," first heard on Davis' Sorcerer (Columbia, 1967), on the All Stars' album Our Point Of View (Blue Note, 2017), which also benefited from the presence of original cast members Herbie Hancock on keys and Shorter himself on soprano saxophone.
Absence; The Elders; Fall; I Dare You (Intro); I Dare You; Envisioned Reflections (Intro); Envisioned
Reflections; The Second Wave; When It Was Now; Dark Horse; Diana; More Elders.