Some debut recordings encapsulate all of an aspiring artist's diverse interests; others are less ambitious, and merely document a particular ensemble or performance. The Eleventh Hour, an expansive tour de force by rising drummer Johnathan Blake, is a prime example of the former. Blake's successful merger of styles should come as no surprise; in addition to sideman gigs for Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell and the Mingus Big Band, he is the son of violinist John Blakehis roots run deep.
Part of the success of The Eleventh Hour can be attributed to Blake's considered balance between the stalwart contributions of his working group and a handful of all-star guest appearances. Blake's quintet features tight-knit personnel; tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and altoist Jaleel Shaw make an intrepid frontline, while pianist Kevin Hays and bassist Ben Street round out the energetic rhythm section. Their high profile company includes Harrell, Robert Glasper, Gregoire Maret and Tim Warfield, whose distinctive contributions enhance, rather than overshadow, the band's capable efforts.
The retro title track demonstrates the validity of Blake's collaborative ideas, drawing from a liberal jazz tradition that offers insight into his all-inclusive aesthetic. Reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's mid-1960s experiments, the groovy opener pits Maret's sinuous harmonica against Glasper's shimmering Rhodes, generating a kaleidoscopic array of tone colors that evoke a soulful hybrid of Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder.
Framed by memorable melodies, tuneful swingers like the stately "Rio's Dream" and lyrical "Time To Kill" are indicative of the record's scope, their elastic rhythmic and harmonic foundations providing ample freedom for probing individual statements. The tortuous intervals and shifting time signatures of the blistering piano-less quartet number "Of Things To Come" raises the energy level, while the evocative "Freefall" ventures into more abstract territory.
Blake revamps convention on the labyrinthine "No Left Turn" and funky "Clues." The former composition features a riveting tenor relay between Turner and Warfield, who navigate the same serial 12 tone row as John Coltrane's "Mile's Mode." The later piece inverts Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," yielding a quixotic theme both familiar and alien.
Though the majority of the date is comprised of originals, a handful of tastefully rendered covers illuminate the leader's expressive range. In addition to a sensitive interpretation of Randy Newman's ballad "Dexter's Tune" and a buoyant version of Harrell's "Blue News," a lush reworking of Glasper's pop-savvy "Canvas" concludes the session much as it beganhighlighting the spirited rapport between Maret and Glasper.
Beyond his abilities as a composer and bandleader, Blake is an authoritative and incisive drummer whose infectious energy galvanizes his sidemen, without overpowering the proceedings. His exhilarating contributions reinforce the clarity and cohesiveness of The Eleventh Hour, a most compelling debut.
The Eleventh Hour; Rio's Dream; Blue News; Dexter's Tune; Time To Kill; Of Things To Come; Freefall; No Left Turn; Clues; Canvas.
Johnathan Blake: drums; Jaleel Shaw: alto saxophone (1, 2, 5-7, 9); Mark Turner: tenor saxophone (1-4, 6-10); Kevin Hays: piano, Fender Rhodes (2-4, 7-9); Ben Street: bass; Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn (3, 5); Gregoire Maret: harmonica (1, 10); Robert Glasper: piano, Fender Rhodes (1, 5, 10); Tim Warfield: tenor saxophone (8).