Terence Blanchard's third studio album since returning to Blue Note in 2013, 2021's Absence is an ambitious and textural production that finds the trumpeter pulling together many of the seemingly disparate stylistic threads of his career. Thematically, the album is a tribute to boundary-pushing saxophonist Wayne Shorter, whose modal-, Latin-, and fusion-informed albums, not to mention his work with Miles Davis in the '60s, has been a major influence on Blanchard. And while there are several well-curated Shorter tunes interpreted here, Blanchard primarily uses Shorter as an inspirational catalyst for his band's own expansive blend of contemporary fusion and post-bop. Joining the trumpeter again is his E-Collective, featuring pianist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist David Ginyard, and drummer Oscar Seaton. Blanchard has featured the E-Collective on all of his recent Blue Note albums, a band that echoes the influence of Miles Davis '70s electric ensembles, as well as Shorter's work with his landmark fusion group Weather Report. Also contributing is the genre-defying group the Turtle Island Quartet, led here by violinist David Balakrishnan with violinist Gabe Terracciano, violist Benjamin von Gutzeit, and cellist Malcom Parson. Their presence on Absence brings a modern classical bent that feels in keeping with Blanchard's longtime work as a film composer, as well as his Grammy-winning work with large ensembles as on A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina). On some tracks, like the edgy and kinetic "I Dare You," Blanchard utilizes Turtle Island for extended introductions, crafting little chamber works that set up a given song's melody before his E-Collective takes over. At other times, as on his loping, funky reading of Shorter's "When It Was Now" off 1982's Weather Report, he weaves them into his group's overall sound, crafting shimmering orchestral accents that off-set his group's liquid, improvisatory interplay. We also get a dreamy orchestral take on Shorter's "Fall" that nicely evokes the original 1968 version off Miles Davis' Nefertiti. Yet more wildly evocative is Blanchard's reworking of Shorter's ballad "Diana" off 1975's Native Dancer. Here, he transforms Shorter's dewy soprano leads into a dusky string arrangement for Turtle Island, full of shadow and light that build slowly before Blanchard takes over, painting broad, noir-ish strokes with his horn. In many ways, Absence mirrors Shorter's defiantly eclectic career as he moved from swinging hard bop to avant-garde jazz, electric fusion, and his latter-career resurgence with his acoustic quartet. Absence is a mutative and nuanced album, but one which rewards both casual listening and extended deep dives.
by Matt Collar