For Blanchard, writing music to coincide with the images of devastation of his birthplace and town where he was raised, New Orleans, was a personal experience unlike any of his 30 or so previously composed film scores. Utilizing his working ensemble, along with The Northwest Sinfonia, Blanchard’s music speaks, separate from the images, of pain, suffering, yet also something of the strength of the human spirit to move forward and rise beyond adversity. That Blanchard makes this obvious, in just the aural spectrum, is a testament to how far his art has risen.
Beginning with a taste of the music most associated with New Orleans pre-jazz, "Ghost of Congo Square," sets the stage of the "what-was." "Levees," a solemn and mournful trumpet prayer which follows, begins like a church-house moan. Opening with a somber chorus of strings, a single trumpet prayer calls out. With his trademark half-valve slides, Blanchard builds his lines into stronger and stronger statements that preach out, seeking both redemption and acknowledgment at the same time. Strings and winds eventually take back the pronouncements before a final trumpet statement that fades at the zenith of its longing.
Fitted together like a song cycle, each piece builds upon emotions, if not actual musical motives and ideas, from previous compositions. "Wading Through," for example, which is a beautiful piano feature, would not be half as prominent without the howling of Blanchard’s trumpet in the preceding "Levees." Aaron Parks’ lines, with his mix of minor mode and half- versus whole-step dissonances, carve out their own room inside of Blanchard’s increasingly dense orchestration.
Blanchard, the composer, has never been as eloquent or precise in his use of orchestral color. The way he is able to softly work clarinets in with string lines, add low brass to sustained double bass tones, clearly articulate oboe melodies or mix wordless voice with large ensemble as in "In Time of Need," shows a level of mastery even above his already prodigious facility with orchestration. Those looking for a jazz album might be disappointed, as the emphasis is on color and line throughout, but those looking for a strong statement of music’s ability to reach beyond sound will find much to listen to again and again.