When he started to make the music that appears on his new album, trumpeter Terence Blanchard wasn’t thinking of Eric Garner, Michael Brown or any of the other recent high-profile police killings of African-Americans. He was thinking of desired collaborators: Donald Ramsey, a bassist and high-school classmate; Oscar Seaton, a drummer with whom he’d worked on film projects; Fabian Almazan, the pianist of his other band; and Charles Altura, a guitarist he’d encountered online. And he was thinking about a sound different from the left-center jazz quintet he leads: something overtly funky, with electric bass and guitar and processing and human voices and dance grooves.
As the E-Collective came together — both as a band and in terms of its repertoire — it took on another guiding light. Blanchard, no stranger to political statements, saw the music as an opportunity to speak out on current events he was unable to ignore, especially as a black man. The eventual recording came to be a commentary on the treatment of minorities by American law enforcement, in the vein of the #blacklivesmatter movement. The album’s title references Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe”; it’s called Breathless.
The heavy and the party recently came together for a week-long run at a jazz club in D.C., though the mood was much more on the party side when the E-Collective stopped at NPR headquarters. The mood was relaxed and jovial from the time the group stepped into the lobby, with Englishman Chris Bailey supplying plenty of backbeats on our house drum set — though there was a moment toward the end of the set when Blanchard casually explained the project, setting up a lyrical, almost elegiac solo. This music was a modern update on jazz fusion, sure, but also one where we dance to ward off despair.
- “Confident Selflessness”
Producers: Patrick Jarenwattananon, Morgan Walker; Audio Engineer: Brian Jarboe; Videographers: Morgan Walker, Adam Wolffbrandt, Lani Milton; Assistant Producer: Elena Saavedra Buckley; photo by Lani Milton/NPR