When director Spike Lee tapped Terence Blanchard to compose the score for his 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, the agony of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was a story they both knew had to be told from a moral standpoint and with cultural credibility. Capturing the hurricane's sorrowful consequences through music would have to take its final shape more from the attitudes of their minds, the devastation they witnessed, and from the inspiration emanating from the people they would meet during the making of documentary. On A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina), Blanchard uses every principle he has mastered as a genius jazz trumpeter to relay the impact of the destruction, the frustration, the sadness and the hope for a future. Full of his beliefs, sustained and elevated by the power of his purpose, Blanchard, accompanied by his quintet and the Northwest Sinfonia (which he conducted and co-orchestrated), delivers a powerful explanation of the emotions surging through them during this devastating experience. Opening with "Ghost of Congo Square," an African beat drenched in Blanchard's articulate trumpeting, handclaps, percussion and the chant "This is the tale of God's will" -- the listener is immediately informed about why things beyond their comprehension will undoubtedly happen. The two-minute trumpet-based "Ghost of Betsy"(about Hurricane Betsy) and the plaintive "Ghost of 1927," a tune reincarnating another flood that ravaged New Orleans and sketched out by saxophonist Brice Winston and drummer Kendrick Scott, complete a trilogy of brief ghost interludes interspersed throughout the recording to imply warnings from the past. Blanchard depicts "Levees" as perpetually in flux: the calm before the storm as captured by the string arrangement; the interlude which decries a breakdown in the security of the Crescent City, shifting, changing, crashing from the strength of thousands of waves, blown by all the winds that passed and losing their old forms in the backwaters of time. His horn registers the aftermath of the destruction -- wailing, grieving and weeping. This song is absolutely amazing. Pianist Aaron Parks plays the unforgettable melody on "Wading Through" "The Water," and mournful "Funeral Dirge" form the remaining nucleus of the material from the documentary. Songs written by four members of Blanchard's quintet serve to offer their own perspective of the tragedy, yet all of the music flows seamlessly to create a brilliant, inspired requiem. The music is potent, tragic, and adept featuring full orchestral plunges and Blanchard's stellar trumpet emerging to involve you the way he's involved. "Dear Mom," Blanchard's heartfelt tribute to his mother who lost her home in the tragedy but thankfully survived with her life, closes the recording. The imagery of sadness and frustration is deeply prevalent but Blanchard builds in accents and hopeful rhythmic nuance to give the listener time to catch his breath, leave behind certain memories, and to realize the promise of a brighter future. The music here will leave you in a melancholy, contemplative mood and definitely in awe of the talented musicians, composers, and arrangers who told A Tale of God's Will. This CD was nominated in 2007 for a Grammy award as Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, and Blanchard's improvisation on "Levees" was nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.
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AllMusic Review by Paula Edelstein