The blend of spaced-out wah wah electronics and sturdy post-bop melodies introduce Magnetic with the title track and in seconds we're already in a timeless zone that refuses to construct roadblocks to any avenue on the jazz map, be it traditional, modern, modal, be-bop or fusion. Anything and everything is welcome: if it's a good idea, Blanchard will give it legs to stand on. "Magnetic" sets the tone of the album with an open atmosphere that's in love with the honesty of unlabored improvisation. Blanchard's playing in particular, here and everywhere on the album, shows that there is no obstacle between the man and his message. Unlike a Coltrane or a Roland Kirk, he's not testing the limits of his instrument in a goliath struggle for some existential reckoning. At peace with his tone and mode of communication Blanchard sings on trumpet straight from the heart, without fear, and it's a joy to listen to.
Blanchard's students are quick to respond to his game plan. Kendrick Scott's pitter-patter hi-hats on "Jacob's Ladder" are a first rate example of one of Magnetic's greatest strengths: a constant effort towards creating understated depth. Scott's cymbal work here accents rhythms that flesh out a strong compositional frame without demanding center-stage attention. That's teamwork and that's what gives Magnetic its heart. Magneticdepends on you to sniff out details like this to find the thrill and excitement pervasive through the whole album. It's not a record that hit you over the head with attitude and force and its reward comes with your respect for quiet confidence. The improvisations are never once obtuse or blindingly complicated. Consistently hitting the right notes at the right time for the most emotional and exhilarating impact possible is the name of the game and the results balance comfortably on a ledge between tension and cool.
The album never sacrifices its clarity of purpose even in the rare moments where the music doesn't exhilarate. On the dreamy "Hallucinations"Magnetic intentionally pauses to breathe like a Phil Jackson style half-time meditation, yet that calm break sets up the gushing rush of Scott's "No Borders Just Horizons" to an amazing effect. The highlight of the entire proceedings, however, is centerpiece "Pet Step Sitter's Theme Song". Composed by pianist Fabian Almazan, the ten minute-plus emotional wildfire is the climax of the LP with Blanchard's electronically processed trumpet blares stampeding around, over and across the quartet's building rhythm section. His soloing on this cut is a moment where you can hear the other members becoming more and more inspired with every chorus as he whips them into a moving, ecstatic frenzy. The tension is built and released with expert timing by the master teacher; nothing and no one on Magnetic tops it or attempts to do so.
Labelmates and old friends Ravi Coltrane and Ron Carter show up on the safe "Don't Run" for an enjoyable old school be-bop workout, but it's important to mark that Magnetic's final word, the rocking "Time To Spare", returns the events a forward-thinking focus. Blanchard's stamp onMagnetic is his faith: faith in himself and, perhaps more importantly, faith that his students through these recordings will get closer to finding some meaning through jazz just as he has. A last enthusiastic trumpet blares from Blanchard on "Time To Spare" and stops short as if it was cut off by the end of a recording tape and indicates that there is something still yet to be said. It's a final blare that commemorates another victory in Blue Note's welcomed come back as a major advocate for jazz in the present tense and opens doors toward exciting possibilities. Although it doesn't point the way forward for jazz like last year's slam dunks Black Radio, Christian aTunde Adjuah or the controversial BBNG2, Magneticdoes exclaim faith that the future will be as rewarding as an incredible past. And if none of that matters to you, Magnetic still deserves your attention for the simple fact that it most definitely cooks like a classic.