Hometown hit

From Midlothian beginnings to finding his groove through school and like-minded musicians in New York City, trumpeter Dan Blankinship is coming back to his hometown on Sunday to perform with his group The Flail.

From Midlothian beginnings to finding his groove through school and like-minded musicians in New York City, trumpeter Dan Blankinship is coming back to his hometown. He and the four other musicians who make up The Flail will perform in Richmond on Sunday after playing together for the past decade, growing musically and closer together ever since their meeting at the New School.

The Flail plays jazz that’s different but of the tradition, unpretentious and influenced by the masters of the trade. The New School was the setting for the quintet to meet and connect on personal and musical levels while rejecting the “academic or antiseptic approach to music,” as Blankinship says. Still, learning the history of the music from great teachers would be momentous for their music.

“The Flail has no musical agenda other than to try and play jazz by incorporating its entire history,” Blankinship says. “This definitely makes composing and improvising more difficult, but I don’t think we’d have it any other way.”

Their latest album, The Flail, recorded live at Small’s Jazz Club in New York in 2007, is all over the map (in a good way), pulling from tons of different sources but still solidifying the group’s sound as an original one. With cool arrangements of tunes not often played (Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle”) and some originals by pianist Brian Marsella (like “Slightly Cool”), bassist Reid Taylor, and Blankinship, the live recording lets the improvisations develop organically.

Listen to “Trinkle Tinkle”:

http://media.rvanews.com/02%20Trinkle%20Tinkle.mp3|titles=Trinkle Tinkle|artists=The Flail]

With three albums to their name and none since their eponymous album, the band’s live activity is steady with a couple of notable trips overseas thanks to saxophonist Stephan Moutot’s French upbringing. They recorded a live album in Grenoble, France, in 2002, a studio album in Paris and 2004, and have toured several times playing some of the most prestigious venues and festivals in Europe. The response from European audiences, Marsella says, is always positive, noting that “they rarely throw tomatoes at us!” He’s noticed a willingness to take risks and experience something new in people abroad, a willingness that he doesn’t see in Americans.

Listen to “Slightly Cool”:

http://media.rvanews.com/07%20Slightly%20Cool.mp3|titles=Slightly Cool|artists=The Flail]

Bassist Cameron Ralston (Fight the Big Bull, Glows in the Dark, Ombak) and his older brother Cary grew up with Blankinship, and while the younger remembers the trumpeter being a great player, Cary’s recollections go much further. “Danny was, without a doubt, one of the most intelligent people that I knew in middle and high school,” he says. “It really threw people for a loop that he was going to Peabody to study music and follow his gut.”

In the band together at Robious Middle School, Cary could tell that Blankinship knew he was going to play the trumpet for a living. When it came time to go to college, he pursued it. “It was a ballsy move,” Ralston says. “He was in the top of our class [with a] really advanced course load, and there he was with a white trumpet in his left hand and a polishing cloth in his right, basically rejecting all expectations and going with the heart of hearts.”

That passion is evident, and it’s not just in Blankinship. Clearly not jaded by antiseptic factory-styled higher educations, each of The Flail’s beating hearts coexist to create something more meaningful than — had they not each chosen music — what they could have been.

The Flail plays at The Camel on Sunday, October 3, at 9pm. Jason Scott Quintet (with Bob Miller, Scott Burton, Cameron Ralston, and Pinson Chanselle) opens. The Camel is located at 1621 W. Broad St. Cover charge TBA. For more information, visit thecamel.org, or view event details.

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Dean Christesen

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