Out of pain and destruction can come hope and celebration. That's the genesis of jazz trumpeter and film composer Terence Blanchard's new album, Choices.
Featuring spoken-word segments by educator/activist Dr. Cornel West and vocals by soul singer Bilal, the August 18 release -- Blanchard's first solo album on Concord Jazz -- debuted at No. 5 on Billboard's Top Jazz Albums chart.
Blanchard's latest follows his Grammy Award-winning Blue Note CD, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina). On that 2007 release, Blanchard and his band delivered a passionate discourse on Hurricane Katrina's ravaging toll on New Orleans.
Jazz is the language I speak, the New Orleans native says. And there are so many things to say inside of that language. I wanted to continue the discussion about what's happening in New Orleans. A lot of positive things are happening here, but there's still a ways to go. Out of that, I wanted to create a debate about the choices we make as a society and as individuals.
Blanchard and band members Fabian Almazan (piano), Derrick Hodge (bass), Kendrick Scott (drums) and newcomer Walter Smith III (saxophone) wrote most of the album's music. Blanchard traveled to Princeton University to record conversations with West about topics ranging from love and respect to how to live a decent life. The Bilal connection stemmed from the singer's guest stint on a series of concerts with Blanchard showcasing music from Spike Lee films. Rounding out the guest list is guitarist and Blanchard protege Lionel Loueke.
The 15-track Choices was recorded at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, itself a Katrina survivor.
A series of five webisodes chronicling the Choices evolution -- dubbed Terence TV -- was launched in advance of the album's release. An upcoming documentary is in the works, as is a worldwide tour.
Blanchard, who has written and scored music for Lee's 25th Hour and Miracle at St. Anna, is composing the score for the George Lucas-produced Red Tails, a film about World War II's Tuskegee Airmen. He also has completed the score for Disney's fall release The Princess and the Frog.
In his other guise, as artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in New Orleans, Blanchard contends that jazz is far from dead.
There's always been a look-to-the-past approach in promoting this music, he says. But a lot of young artists out here are doing unconventional things that are unique. And we need to celebrate that, not deny it.