Terence Blanchard – The Malcolm X Jazz Suite (1992)

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NICK DERISO: The task here was turning sweeping orchestral themes from trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s score for Spike Lee’s epic bio into a piece that not only holds together — but also comes across like a true jazz recording.

Blanchard’s effort is a triumph, something memorably better than the original film’s music in its dedication to searing emotion then subtle meloncholy — but also sweet swinging.

“The Malcolm X Jazz Suite,” somehow both incendiary and moving, arrived as a small-band redo of his well-regarded score just months after the movie opened. It solidified Blanchard (who got his start as a sideman in the Blakey band) as one of a handful of unabashedly important jazz voices of the time.

Bassist Tarus Mateen, tenor man Sam Newsome, pianist Bruce Barth amd drummer Troy Davis each participated in the original “Malcolm X” project, as well. Not surprisingly, the saxophonist shines in this more overtly jazz-oriented outing.

Newsome brings a refreshing splash of attitude to the record, coloring Blanchard’s soaring, yet languid notes, and then bleating out the odd short, sharp shock.

As with the film score, themes and progressions return, often with the New Orleans-born Blanchard leading, but here he is also joined by Newsome, and is occasionally subsumed by him. We see the first flowerings of a symbiotic, yet explosive relationship akin to that of Coltrane and Miles — with whom Blanchard, then dabbling almost exclusively in well-placed long notes, had begun to favor quite favorably.

But in the end, it’s Blanchard’s show. And what a show it eventually became.

Blanchard took to performing this piece as an unbroken movement, never stopping for applause, in the wake of its release. (He started with a week-long gig at the Village Vanguard in November of ’92.)

Wondrous and huge, “The Malcolm X Jazz Suite” lingers even now in my mind as a uniform achievement — moving effortlessly from five-piece swing to emotional, larger-band asides.

It’s like late-period Ellington for a new generation.

Purchase: Terence Blanchard – “The Malcolm X Jazz Suite”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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