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Cindy Blackman: In the Now

Sometimes it takes the loss of a parent to bring about a heightened sense of maturity and clarity of purpose in oneself. In many ways, Tony Williams was Cindy Blackman’s spiritual father, certainly her biggest role model. His passing has inspired the drummer-composer to go deep within and reflect on Tony’s contribution as well as her own gifts. The result of that introspection is her most profound and heartfelt statement to date.

Tony’s influence looms large on her sixth album as a leader. There was a time, back in the early ’80s, when Blackman played like she had something to prove. She’s gotten well beyond that now. While her playing is still aggressive, her touch is more brisk and her ideas more organically integrated into the fabric of the compositions. Like Tony, she is a thinking, reacting drummer who propels the music forward while shaping and coloring it from measure to measure with well-placed tom and snare accents and cymbal splashes. In the Now features her most mature, interactive playing on record while also highlighting her evolving sophistication as a composer.

Jacky Terrasson’s use of Fender Rhodes on Blackman originals like “Passage” and the title track, as well as on a savvy cover of pop star Lenny Kravitz’s “Let Love Rule,” immediately triggers a Miles in the Sky/Filles de Kilimanjaro vibe. Ron Carter’s pedalling and walking basslines complete the connection to that time and place. Ravi Coltrane responds to this surging, expansive attitude with some probing and highly personal work on tenor (and soprano on “Passage”), with a few nods to Joe Lovano along the way.

The centerpiece of this excellent album is “A King Among Men,” Cindy’s heartfelt tribute to her hero, Williams. The 15-minute suite moves through a variety of moods marked by her conversational approach to the kit. Coltrane’s tenor playing is particularly lyrical here as well as on swinging renditions of Wayne Shorter’s “Prince of Darkness” and Ornette Coleman’s “Happy House.” The brooding ballad “Sophia” is a fine example of Blackman’s alluring brushwork, underscored by Carter’s sparse, zenlike presence on bass, while she holds nothing back on the dynamic go-for-it traps showcase “A Strawberry for Cindy.”

After years of trying to find her own place in the music, Cindy Blackman arrives in high style with In the Now .

Originally Published