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Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective with Turtle Island Quartet at Koerner Hall, Toronto

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Trumpeter and Composer Terence Blanchard - Photo from terenceblanchard.com
Trumpeter and Composer Terence Blanchard - Photo from terenceblanchard.com

December 9, 2023. The stage is set, and the theatre is aglow with the reflection of all that glitters, which is gold, a reflection of the ornate architecture that makes the Koerner Hall ambiance magical.

Before the concert, I received a post from Terence Blanchard; it was a photo of the inside of Koerner Hall, a beautiful, full shot of an empty theatre. Blanchard stated, “Looking forward to playing the Royal Conservatory’s crown jewel, Koerner Hall.”

Terence Blanchard combines all the elements of great music. From his award-winning and groundbreaking opera, Fire Shut Up In My Bones, which premiered at the Met.

“The Metropolitan Opera won the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the third year in a row it triumphed in that category.”  The Met (2023)

To his Oscar awards for film soundtracks, including two Academy Awards for Best Original Score nominations for Black Klansman (2018) and Da 5 Bloods (2020).

Blanchard is a musician, leader, and composer who seemingly can do no wrong. Yes, this is Terence Blanchard, who took to the stage in Toronto’s Koerner Hall and simply and superbly played beautiful music.

The first few compositions play out with no introductions or even acknowledgment of the audience. Yet, an obvious joy from the performers is expressed through their looks at each other. Especially so from drummer Oscar Seaton Jr., whose ear-to-ear grin never lessened throughout his performance.

Seaton Jr. created a symphony of sound from his drum kit. The crash of cymbals, the crack of a deep snare drum, and the tympani-like boom of his floor toms created an ever-present energy.

Do you sense an admiration for all things percussive? Yes, I have a deep and abiding love of percussion instruments. The piano is one, and Taylor Eigsti is a great keyboardist. He seemed to play off of the rhythms and beats that Seaton Jr. laid down. Terence Blanchard takes after Miles Davis in more ways than one. He seems to build his bands from the drummer up. Seaton Jr. is certainly a great foundation upon which to build.

The strings add to that orchestral/ symphonic feel. The first composition had that feeling. We would later learn the name “Absence,” composed by bassist, David “DJ” Ginyard, from the album of the same name. The subtle piano introduction leads to the full sound of the band entering the tune along with the string section, The Turtle Island Quartet, and then the dynamic trumpet of Blanchard with all his resonant and electronic sound-embellished glory.

The next song is very different, a funky feel and with a drum feature as well as a great electric bass solo. “Confidence Selflessness”, composed by guitarist Charles Altura.

Altura begins the next composition, “Unchanged,” also composed by him, with a stirring guitar rhythm. The trumpet of Blanchard joins in, a thick blanket of sound with a slurred tone. Blanchard gave way to the other band members for much of the concert. Almost a spectator at times. A keyboardist at other times. He had his small electric keyboard situated behind bassist Ginyard.   

Blanchard introduces the band members and the leader of the Turtle Island Quartet, David Balakrishnan. He explains to the audience how they got together and tells us we are in for a treat. The E-Collective departs.

Turtle Island Quartet would take over, and the leader, Balakrishnan, introduced the other quartet members. He explained that they are a classical and jazz improvisational group that started in 1985. Blanchard invited them to play on the album Absence, dedicated to Wayne Shorter. They have been touring with the E-Collective ever since.

The string quartet played a composition entitled “Second Wave”. Fast playing, with a great rhythm and bright melody, the violinists become percussionists, plucking and slapping the strings. It was a very exciting performance with great dynamics, and it took me on an emotional rollercoaster.

After the quartet finished their song, they departed the stage, and the E-collective returned. 

Blanchard addressed the audience. “I told you. Fantastic, right?!?!”

The E-Collective jumped into “Kaos,” inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, a song from the Live album. The second album for the E-Collective, released in 2018. It was a long song, with Blanchard yelling with trumpet high-note howls that echoed throughout the theatre as if in protest.

The string quartet returned for the finale, the encore song “Soldiers,” Blanchard explained his mother was a social worker, and he feels they, social workers, don’t get enough “shine.”

“This song is dedicated to all the social workers.” This was a wonderful show that flew by for me as if in a flash.  I found the playing quite mesmerizing and hypnotic. What a wonderful show! Thank you, Terence Blanchard and friends.

The E-Collective: Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Charles Altura, guitar; Taylor Eigsti, piano & synthesizers; David “DJ” Ginyard, electric bass; Oscar Seaton Jr., drums.

Turtle Island Quartet: David Balakrishnan, violin; Gabriel Terracciano, violin; Benjamin von Gutzeit, viola; Naseem Alatrash, cello.

An independent journalist, based in Toronto, Canada. A professional musician and a fan of music, dance and the arts. I have written short stories, lyrics, poetry and reviews. I have been published in numerous online webzines. I’ve taught drumming and played in bands; I have felt the passion to create. I enjoy expressing that passion, the artistic experience, in words, reporting on the shows and musical experiences that I have witnessed.

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