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Cindy Blackman: Works on Canvas

After drummer Cindy Blackman’s eruptive 1987 debut, Arcane, it’s interesting to hear how delicately she opens her latest album, Works on Canvas. Pianist Carlton Holmes’ sparse accompaniment at the beginning on the standard “Green Dolphin Street” is given added sparkle by Blackman’s shimmering brush strokes. Shortly afterwards, she steadily builds the climax with her sparkling cymbal work and quick cross-rhythms. Tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen then improvises on the melody with a dark robust tone, while bassist George Mitchell helps Blackman drive the classic into a fiery yet impressionistic bliss. The end result is one of the most magical interpretations of the Kaper composition in recent years.

Understatement eluded much of Blackman’s work in the past. It seemed that her formidable strength and agility often got in the way of her compositions. But more recently, she’s learned to create more open rhythmic pockets that allow the compositions to shine. While Blackman thunders heavily on Works on Canvas, as on modal excursions like Allen’s “Mudee Ya” and her own composition “Ballad Like,” which evoke the inspiring intensity of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, respectively, there’s also her alluring reading of “April in Paris,” where she highlights the compositions with speckling cymbal rides and rolling tom fills. Much of Works on Canvas illustrates Blackman pacing her solos more evenly and playing with greater emotional complexity.

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