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Watch a Dazzling Performance by Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective at Bryant Park

 Terence Blanchard onstage at Bryant Park Picnic Performances, Aug. 6. 2021.
Jennifer Taylor/Jennifer Taylor
Terence Blanchard onstage at Bryant Park Picnic Performances, Aug. 6. 2021.

Like all of us, Terence Blanchard experienced the events of the last year and a half on multiple registers. He mourned some losses, adjusted to new customs and cautions. And for an artist as busy as he is, putting the emergency brake on all performing and touring might have been the ultimate shock.

Blanchard practically put it that way himself, when he addressed the crowd at his first booking since the pandemic began — a concert on Aug. 6, presented by Carnegie Hall Citywide as part of Bryant Park Picnic Performances.

“Being huddled up in our house for a year… well, y’all know what that’s like,” he said onstage, a few songs into a spectacular set. “To have my first live performance be here in New York City at Bryant Park is really, really special.”

WBGO has partnered with Bryant Park Picnic Performances to feature select concerts from the series, every other week here at wbgo.org. Today we’re proud to kick off this collaboration with Blanchard’s concert, featuring his band The E-Collective with the Turtle Island Quartet. Their performance drew from a brand-new album, Absence, which pays homage to a lifelong inspiration for Blanchard, the Newark-born saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.

“Wayne Shorter has been a constant in my life from the beginning,” Blanchard explains onstage. “From my early days with Art Blakey all throughout the entirety of my career. And every step along the way, one conversation with Wayne is a serious life lesson. Not just music, life. So, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my heroes while he’s still with us, so he can get his flowers now.”

The concert opens with the title track of Absence, composed by E-Collective bassist David Ginyard. What follows are two reimagined pieces by Shorter: “The Elders,” originally featured in Weather Report, and “Fall,” from his repertory for the Miles Davis Quintet. Then the Turtle Island Quartet performs a piece by its lead violinist, David Balakirshnan, with a pandemic-appropriate title: “The Second Wave.”

In some ways, Absence converges two sides of Blanchard’s creative output, not that they were ever truly in opposition. A New Orleans-born trumpet virtuoso forged in the hard-bop fires of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he has also been a prolific film composer — notably in a celebrated association with Spike Lee, spanning more than 30 years.

Later this month, Blanchard will make history as the first Black composer ever to have work presented by the Metropolitan Opera: Fire Shut Up in My Bones, based on Charles Blow’s memoir of the same name, will open the Met’s 2021-2022 season.

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Nate Chinen