Once again, the Symphony Center Presents: Jazz Series at Symphony Center brought the best jazz performers to Chicago for an unforgettable Friday night. This time around the Jazz Series double bill featured two multiple Grammy Award winners: drummer Antonio Sánchez and trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Both are well known for their composition skills and their technical ability, so hearing them play, especially back to back, is a treat for true jazz fans.
Up first was Mexico City-born drummer Antonio Sánchez. He is probably best known for his score to the Academy Award-winning film Birdman. Following up that gigantic piece of work had to be a daunting task, but Sánchez did so with poise by releasing “The Meridian Suite” in 2015. On Friday night, Sánchez and his band, Migration, performed the album in its entirety without stopping. This allowed the audience to experience the music as one unbroken arc.
“The Meridian Suite” is ambitious and vast. There is an electronic element to the music with electro-effects on most of the instruments that creates an other-worldly vibe. Chase Baird, the saxophonist, rotated to a play a plugged-in instrument called the EWI (electronic wind instrument) which only added to the atmosphere. Sánchez’s wife, Thana Alexa, added a warmth to the music with her beautiful vocals.
Antonio Sanchez’s drumming was impressive but it’s clear that the “The Meridian Suite” was composed to be a collaboration. Sánchez did not demand the spotlight, but rather underlined the music so that his bandmates could express the motifs and melodies. The “The Meridian Suite” is proof that Antonio Sánchez is a composer and bandleader to be watched, and of course heard.
Up next was another composure of significant stature: Terence Blanchard. Blanchard has also scored numerous movies, Malcolm X and 25th Hour, and his latest album is entitled “Live” which addresses the epidemic of gun violence in America. Blanchard and his band, The E-Collective, performed songs from “Live” on Friday night.
The pointed tight jams and rhythmic tension set a mood that was turbulent and almost angry, which was appropriate for a piece about gun violence. The band as a unit work well together with stormy interludes constructed by guitarist Charles Altura paired with Blanchard’s trumpet breaking through with energic blasts. The star of the show, however, was Chicago’s own drummer Oscar Seaton. His beats had a little bit of everything: jazz, rock, hip-hop, but most of all his beats provided energy. While the message of the music was serious, Terence Blanchard and The E-Collective grooved with an infectious vigor.
The Symphony Center Presents: Jazz Series did it once again. With only one stage and one night, it presented two tremendous talents that collectively have nine Grammy awards. With so much talent on stage, the night could not have missed.
Photos provided by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra