At the end of Playing Changes is a list: The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far). I organized these by year, and then alphabetically by artist name. I'll be running them down here, in that order. (No one appears more than once as a leader, though there’s ample overlap in personnel.)
Terence Blanchard began this century on one trajectory and took a smart, surprising turn toward another. A former Young Lion trumpet paragon who'd become known for his contributions to the filmography of Spike Lee, Blanchard projected an image of luxurious comfort in his solo career at the dawn of the 2000s.
Gary Giddins, writing in '01, observed that he "is one of the most distinctive trumpet players of his generation, but his trademark, a purring glissando, has become fussy and predictable." Giddins was writing in the Village Voice about a silky Blanchard album called Let's Get Lost, which featured vocal turns by Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Jane Monheit and Diana Krall. (Ben Ratliff, taking a somewhat skeptical view of this all-star effort, hailed the album in The New York Times as "an example of jazz marketing at its most finely calibrated.") It seemed clear that Blanchard could keep cruising in this mode for a while.
But Bounce, his debut for Blue Note, suggested something else entirely: a postmillennial update of the hard-boppish tradition on which Blanchard had cut his teeth, and a showcase for some excellent younger talent. Along with saxophonist Brice Winston and drummer Eric Harland, who'd both appeared on Let's Get Lost, this album introduced several important new voices: guitarist Lionel Loueke, a maverick from Benin; pianist Aaron Parks, a prodigy from Seattle; and bassist Brandon Owens, a multi-phase talent from Los Angeles. (Robert Glasper, 24 at the time of the sessions, joined this ensemble as an accent, playing organ and some piano.)
Bounce includes a cooled-out take on "Footprints," the Wayne Shorter classic, as well as a pugnacious burner called "Fred Brown." But what set it apart — marking it as an album not only of its time but also pointing toward the near horizon — were the original compositions, including one apiece by Parks, Harland and Owens. Listen to these themes, and the way the musicians move through them, and you can hear a whole set of new protocols locking into place.
Blanchard, already a garlanded composer, brought some memorable new tunes to the table himself. "Passionate Courage" has all the hallmarks of his style, from a brooding rhythmic bed to an intuitive yet unexpected harmonic turn to a shapely melodic line. It's a calmly intrepid theme, which just about sets the tone for much of what Blanchard would accomplish in the next decade. Which is really saying something.