From the first moment of Terence Blanchard’s “Live,” a moody drone creeping up from beneath the applause, there is the unmistakable feeling that something drastic took place just before it. It’s like the scene in a movie right after a violent climax where everyone is left to figure out what the heck just happened: Cue the music.
On this his new album, Blanchard, who is also an acclaimed film composer, has written a soundtrack for the aftermath of real violence, recorded in the cities where it happened. Cleveland,where a 12-year-old boy was fatally shot by police in 2014; Dallas, where five police officers were killed in an ambush in 2016; and St. Paul, where, just days before the Dallas murders, a police officer fatally shot a black motorist during a traffic stop outside the city.
The result is the honest, troubled vision of an onlooker trying to bring into sound the feelings of desolation, empowerment, anger, and confusion those incidents brought to their communities.
And for Blanchard, the album is another chance to reflect on the themes of race and police brutality he wrestled with on his 2015 studio album “Breathless.”
This time, on the seven tracks culled from performances in those three cities, the veteran trumpet player mostly lets his compositions speak for him, giving his band the E-Collective free reign over thick, blistering jams full of Blanchard’s anthemic melodies and eddying harmonic flow.
Charles Altura (electric guitar) and Fabian Almazan (piano and keyboards) one-up each other with extended solos on almost every tune. Blanchard’s are usually more to the point with an effects-heavy, in-your-face scream on trumpet. All are heard over the relentless gunshot pop of Oscar Seaton’s snare and low-down grind of new E-Collective member David Ginyard Jr. on electric bass. There are quiet moments, too, but there’s always a heavy funk-rock forward drive in these performances.
Though live albums are in theory always a true representation of the concert experience, “Live” is an especially honest one. The mix is exactly what the band sounds like live, for better and worse. There’s a visceral rush in the heavy clot of sound, but clarity suffers in the low end, especially as the texture gets thick.
And these aren’t necessarily the band’s best performances of each song on this tour, those crystalline moments where everything goes right. Altura’s and Almazan’s solos sometimes feel too drawn out, and there is more than one moment of ensemble clumsiness.
But that might not matter. Here, place is powerful.
Lucas Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.