The crucible of catastrophe impels creative expression. Since the turn of the century, this has taken shape in manifold ways, from artistic responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the war in Iraq to the pummeling of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is this latter calamity that informs Crescent City native son Terence Blanchard's impassioned song cycle, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina), a 13-track emotional tour de force of anger, rage, compassion, melancholy and beauty. A Tale of God's Will, which features Blanchard's quintet—pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Brice Winston, bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Kendrick Scott—as well as a 40-member string orchestra, is his third album for Blue Note Records. (Since signing with the label in 2003, Blanchard has released two other critically acclaimed albums, Bounce and Flow, the latter of which was nominated for two Grammys in 2006.)
"This is what we are called to do as artists," says the trumpeter, bandleader, arranger and film-score composer." We document our social surroundings and give our impressions of events. The problem with Katrina is that the devastation is so vast that there's only been a trickle of art so far. We're all still digesting what went on and what continues to happen. It's like an unending story. For me, like so many others, it's taken me a moment to get my mind around all of this. I knew I needed to express this musically to keep the story alive, but so many important things—the safety of family members, figuring out how to rebuild my mother's house—never allowed me the time to breathe for a minute."
An important jumpstart for A Tale of God's Will was director Spike Lee's decision to document the aftermath of Katrina on film,in what turned out to be the four-hour HBO documentary, When The Levees Broke, which aired last year. Lee, who has enlisted Blanchard on numerous occasions to score his films, such as Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, The 25th Hour and Inside Man, tapped him once again for his documentary. "That started me to make some musical statements for this moment in time," Blanchard says. "It's part of the grieving process. Once I wrote some of the music for Spike's film,I knew I could take it and expand upon it. Meanwhile, guys in my band were writing music that reflected on what happened in the aftermath of Katrina. This provided me with the perfect opportunity to bring the band all together."