Trumpeter Terence Blanchard has always been one of the most musically adventurous of the young lions who roared into the jazz arena in the '80s and '90s. He has done an album with Brazilian singer-songwriter Ivan Lins and recorded a Billie Holiday tribute. He has composed music for Spike Lee's films and recorded some of it--"Malcolm X Jazz Suite," for one--as impressive jazz outings, beyond the film sources.
Blanchard's latest unusual outing is "Jubilant" (Sony Classical), a partnership with singer Jubilant Sykes in a collection of mostly spiritual-oriented music. And it was the focus Tuesday when Blanchard, with his quintet and Sykes, opened a five-night run at the Jazz Bakery.
The partnership had some appealing qualities. Sykes' wonderfully pliable voice, moving from a whisper to a rumbling, resonant baritone, brought classics such as "Deep River" and "Fix Me, Jesus" to vibrant life. Blanchard was both a supportive accompanist and an interactive voice, occasionally countering Sykes' sweetness with spicy musical contrasts.
For jazz fans, however, the real substance of the evening was provided by Blanchard's quintet, and, especially, by the work of the two horn players--Blanchard and gifted young tenor saxophonist Mark Shim.
Of the many young trumpeters influenced by Wynton Marsalis, Blanchard, more than most, has moved toward finding his own sound. Although there were times when his tone sounded too far forward and a bit pinched, there also were passages--especially during a Duke Ellington piece from Blanchard's next, as yet unreleased album--in which his use of tonal slurs and half-valve slides was strikingly original.
Shim, too, was impressive, with a rich, dark tone reminiscent of both Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, building thoughtful solos out of interlocking phrases and patterns.
The only glitch in an otherwise attractive evening of jazz was the uneven balance in the rhythm section (pianist Edward Simon, bassist David Pulphus and drummer Troy Davis), perhaps because of their unfamiliarity with the Bakery's tricky acoustics, with Davis' drums sounding a bit busy, often overcoming Pulphus' fairly conservative bass lines.
The Terence Blanchard Quintet with vocalist Jubilant Sykes at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City, through Saturday; (310) 271-9039. $20 tonight at 8:30 and 10; $22 Friday and Saturday at 8:30 and 10 p.m.