Obscuro: Don Was and Terence Blanchard – BackBeat (1994)

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NICK DERISO: The most interesting thing about this soundtrack recording from the Beatle-based movie “BackBeat” was that it didn’t include, you know, any Beatles music.

Was — co-leader of the now-forgotten 1980s rock group Was (Not Was), but more famous by then as the producer who gave Bonnie Raitt’s career mouth-to-mouth — played bass and wrote all the tunes.

But it also didn’t include, you know, any pop or blues stuff.

This is a jazz record and, thanks in no small part to Blanchard — then coming into his own as the first fully realized post-Marsalis trumpeter — a fine one.

That it has aged so well is perhaps just as surprising, even if “BackBeat” can sometimes become a bit too intelligent for its own good.

There are signs, for instance, of the contemplative things to come for Blanchard, whose youthful flights of improvisation are reigned in by Was’ muted palette. “BackBeat” provides the first inklings of where Blanchard will go with the rich, laid-back tone best heard during the contemporary “Billie Holiday Songbook” on Columbia. (That effort ultimately falls short of “BackBeat,” though, since it was marred by subpar vocals on several tracks.)

Repeated listens have also deepened my appreciation for the work here of pianist Eric Reed. While not as Monk-y as the then-new Marcus Roberts, he still found several areas to exercise a still-growing, but already attractive, technique.

The album’s best tune comes early, on the opening “You Asked I Came,” which charges out with a Diddley beat, then evolves into a horn-led Blakey riff — complete with African-influenced tom work.

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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