On his last UK date, in July, we declared Jacob Collier to be jazz’s new messiah. Since then the endearingly geeky 20-year-old has taken his multimedia one-man band to jazz festivals around the world. It is a live incarnation of his YouTube masterworks – covers of soul and jazz standards pieced together in real time on drums, bass guitar, piano and a choir of voices – and it’s stunning.
Some tiny reservations remain: Collier’s soft, choirboy voice is perfectly suited to the startling choral harmonies he creates via his keyboard but it isn’t, perhaps, as effective as a lead instrument. However, the results are usually so impressive that it doesn’t matter. Even when he ditches the audiovisual gimmicks and plays a solo version of Stevie Wonder’s Lately – just voice and piano – the effect is startling, with his cascading piano accompaniment full of momentary semitone shifts and off-kilter chordal voicings.
The unlucky fellow who has to follow him is the New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Best known for his Spike Lee soundtracks and hard bop albums,Blanchard lurches between smooth funk, electronica and heavy metal on his most recent album, Breathless.Tonigh he delivers an uncompromising set. His quintet plays for 45 minutes before the first pause, and Blanchard barely acknowledges the audience or introduces the songs. Instead of concentrating on his affecting and defiantly romantic delivery on ballads, he uses his wide-bore trumpet mouthpiece to belt out forthright riffs over rock beats. He plays Moog-ish solos on an Akai synth; and weaves in some mangled recordings of aphorisms by the philosopher Cornel West (“all emulation is the sign of an adolescent mind”). It’s an impressive but exhausting set.
Jazz musicians are often shy about acknowledging their non-jazz influences – it attracts the ire of Blanchard’s childhood friend Wynton Marsalis, for one. It’s taken Blanchard more than 30 years to overcome this. Luckily Jacob Collier seems to have had no such issues.