While one would not guess so by the soft lines of her face, Cindy Blackman has now been on the modern jazz scene for nearly twenty years. She has compiled an impressive resume along the way: Jackie Mclean, Joe Henderson, Don Pullen, Hugh Masekela, Pharaoh Sanders, Sam Rivers, Cassandra Wilson, Ravi Coltrane and Bill Laswell. Of course she probably has gained the most notoriety for her stint with Rock Superstar Lenny Kravitz, which Jazz fans will either politely (or impolitely) disregard, or simply recognize that Cindy has been bashin' in whatever context she has found herself, keeping the backbeat solid and always asserting her particular presence on the kit.
"Someday", Blackman's third recording for HighNote, puts Blackman into another light as a band leader who may now be really hitting her stride. This is after all, undoubtedly her most prescient and cohesive recording to date. It is a strong conceptual record with a very consistent aesthetic at play and moreover, one which does not fail to create some memorable moods. Following from Blackman's main reference point of Tony Williams, this is very atmospheric modal music which carries a lot of the spirit over from that "sound's" main formulators, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. To fans of moody, noir-ish modal jazz, this record should be nothing less than a welcome addition.
That said, there is actually a concrete nod to Miles Davis in the selection of the music on this program. "My Funny Valentine", "Someday My Prince Will Come"(title track) and "Walkin'" were featured set pieces of Miles that have been reworked here in the context of a tenor quartet with Rhodes organ providing a sustaining chordal cushion. The reworkings are unique- in fact only Walkin' may be called a non-deviation from the original rendering, and it is played in the manner Miles played it at the Plugged Nickel stand, not of the 50s-Prestige records strand. Indeed "Someday..." and "My Funny Valentine" are thrown into a postmodern light that makes them sound rather wistful or even fatalistic; hence the classic sense of moody feeling so characteristic of modal jazz as alluded to.
The other players in this quartet, although perhaps lacking in notoriety, sound simply fine. It is the holdover cast from her previous HighNote album "Works on Canvas", but here unlike "Works", there is a greater degree of aesthetic conviction and self-assurance in the soloing here (the former generally boosts the latter). J.D. Allen, the tenor player, sounds very confident and incisive in his soloing, like a more articulate Antoine Roney, who played with Blackman in the past. Carlton Holmes meanwhile is a young pianist who we can expect to hear from in the future. His work on both piano and Rhodes organ is sharp, and creative enough that it does not just fall into the abyss of competency. His composition "Eternal Justice" stands out amidst the tunes present also. In short though there are no generic sidemen here, and this fine outfit is what allows in great part for there to be such a cohesive and gutsy ensemble sound.
Lastly, what to say about Cindy Blackman's playing itself? She is "da man" in at least the metaphoric sense here. She shows there is no doubt as to who is driving this session, guiding these young cats with her propulsive thrashing like only well, her mentor Tony Williams would. Cindy Blackman has certainly absorbed some of the fine points of Mr. Williams on pushing a band with commentary from behind the kit. She has an abundance of rolls and off-beat accents that seem to reenergize the musical context, and seldom clutter it in the process.
Whereas Cindy Blackman's previous two releases for HighNote were mixed successes, there is not a lot of hesitation here in giving this record an unqualified endorsement. Again, for those who love moody modal jazz, this is one of the tickets out of the station in 2001.
Personnel: Cindy Blackman- drums, Carlton Holmes- piano, George Mitchell- bass, J.D. Allen-tenor saxophone.