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Terence Blanchard's: 'Flow' heralds the brilliant second act of the trumpeter's extraordinary career

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"What makes people happy and glad to be alive?" To paraphrase Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, "Everyone experiences flowfrom time to time and will recognize its characteristics: People typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence. All of these optimal experiences add up to mastery, or better yet, a sense of participation in life, thus the meaning of life." The flow of music.

Two years ago, Blue Note released Terrance Blanchard's critically acclaimed album Bounce. This June, the trumpeter-composer's second label release hits the shops. Produced by the artist and four-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock, Flow heralds nothing less than the brilliant second act of Blanchard's already extraordinary career.

Flowis TB's rambunctiously heated answer to those unenlightened few who doubted that this chill master of the urbane film score (Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, Barbershop) could get down. Indeed, Flow not only showcases Blanchard's prodigious instrumental and composing skills; it reveals him to be both a shrewd judge of young talent and a bandleader of Milesian dimension and magnitude as well. 

Mixing-blending-elevating-dancing their way through Flow's ten compositions are six cats you may not know today but will most certainly be remembering tomorrow-Brice Winston on saxophone & Yamaha WX5; Lionel Loueke on guitar and vocals; Aaron Parks on piano; Derrick Hodge on bass; Kendrick Scott on drums; Howard Drossin on synth programming. "It's essentially the same band as on Bounce except for Derrick and Kendrick," muses Terence. "Kendrick understands the concept; he's the perfect fit. Derrick makes a huge difference. At the beginning of most of the solos, he'll lay down some kind of idea that will just change the direction of where we're gonna go. And he plays so many things between the phrases. Lionel is a visionary. Aaron's a very easy young man and he also has a lot of different ideas about what he wants to do with his...with our music.  Brice is probably one of the most underrated guys in this business. His brain is always working, always questioning stuff and thinking about what he wants to do next. Having a guy like that around is a great inspiration, a great motivation for me."

"Flow Parts I, II and III" are interspersed throughout the CD-alternatively passionate, fulminous and mournful-sounding, this tonal triptych is the album's serendipitous dominant theme. "We were sitting in the studio and I said, "Man, we need another tune. Derrick started playing that rhythm on his bass and we just followed up on it. I played my solo, then when it got to Lionel it became a whole 'nother thing, y'know? At the end, Herbie suggested that this piece be broken up into three separate movements and spread across the record."

"Wadagabe" is a mini-suite at 16-plus minutes. The Intro is filled with billowing winds of synthesizer, congas, kora-like guitar plucking/fretting, disembodied voices and Lionel speaking in African tongues that evaporate into the main piece's swirling, ever-rising congress of thunder 'n' lightning drums/cymbals, pithy guitar-keyboard chordal counterpoint; with Brice's Yamaha WX5 (an electronic wind instrument) throwing tart soprano/wood flute spirals, feverish shamanic chants and Terence's fiery runs.

"Benny's Tune" and "The Source" feature Herbie's trademark pianism. The former is a darkly melodic, shimmering ballad sounding straight out of Herbie's early-'70s Mwandishi period; the latter, a rhythmically roiling yet harmonically soothing jazz waltz. The Latin-tinged "Wandering Wonder" gives each member a chance to shine brightly. "It fits into the concept of what this band has been doing but I wrote it back in the '80s," muses Mr. B. "I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but the band I had back then couldn't play it the way this band is playing it. The way these guys tackled the stuff, man, they play it like they're playing "Mary Had A Little Lamb!" Like second nature.

"Over There" is a heartbreakingly plaintive lullaby that is caressed, stroked and soothed to a poignant sweetness by TB's sumptuously emotive trumpeting. The ruminative "Child's Play" tastes of '60s-era Miles and '80s Woody Shaw yet feels totally modern-Terence Blanchard circa 2005. The indigo, mood-swinging blend of Iberian-evoking, quiet-to-loud-to-quiet-again modal dynamics, soulfully ethereal keyboards and spine-shivering guitar extrapolations of "Harvest Dance" ends Flow on a triumphant note.

"What you hear on this record is the way we play live," opines Terence. "That's the thing about this band. What we're talking about is their musicianship. They find spaces to put things in spots that make sense. With this band, I just feel born-again! [laughs] It's because it's given me new life and just piqued my curiosity to work hard again and really try to grow and develop and just be an artist. I'm really having so much fun with this band."

"Flow is just a logical extension of Bounce, really. You see, that's just a tribute to Blue Note. Now, I just feel like I'm back on track, like I'm back in the groove being a jazz artist. Exploring new territory-that's really what we're supposed to do as artists. So I'm very happy about that."