At 51, Terence Blanchard has become the gold standard for band leadership in jazz. Magnetic is just the latest example of Blanchard’s M.O.: pluck simpatico-but-distinctive young talents, provide them with a challenging, stylistically versatile forum, and, perhaps most importantly, play their tunes. Furthering the pattern of his last three small-ensemble recordings, Blanchard eschews covers, allowing compositions by younger bandmates to comprise the majority of the all-originals program. And there isn’t a dud in the bunch.
Blanchard understands the balance between individual ego and group synergy. Pianist Fabian Almazan is accorded nearly five minutes for his stunning solo track, “Comet,” and drummer Kendrick Scott kicks off his surging song, “No Borders Just Horizons,” with a highly musical two-minute drum solo. (Not coincidentally, Almazan and Scott each released an ambitious debut record shortly after joining Blanchard’s ensemble.) Yet more frequently, each member chimes in with an original thought that remains consistent with the structure and spirit of the song and the imprint of the previous soloist. It happens on “Jacob’s Ladder,” the ballad by 21-year-old bassist and band newcomer Joshua Crumbly. It happens on the rippling closer, “Time To Spare,” by saxophonist Brice Winston.
And when Blanchard adds special guests to a couple of his own tunes, things really get cooking; on “Don’t Run,” Blanchard sets up a pass-the-baton groove on the shoulders of guest Ron Carter’s stentorian walking bass line, lets guest Ravi Coltrane solo mightily on soprano, tops it with his own thrilling trumpet solo, and leaves it to Carter to clean the debris from all corners with his contrabass solo. This is sharing and daring small-group jazz — magnetic indeed.