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Cindy Blackman: Someday

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You know when players are stepping up as leaders when they use the tradition as a means, not the end-all. Cindy Blackman does just that on Someday…, a program that liberally taps the Miles Davis book, but with a couple of pungent twists. The first is that the drummer-composer doesn’t employ a trumpeter, giving the material a distinctively different shape. She then recasts “My Funny Valentine,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Walkin'” as expansive forays like those of Davis’ second quintet (Carlton Holmes’ Fender Rhodes, however, points to Kilimanjaro and beyond).

More importantly, Blackman frontloads the Miles-associated tunes into the first third of the program. The double-espresso-like jolt of the Miles material gives way to a solid sequence of compositions penned by Blackman, Holmes and tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen. (Bassist George Mitchell rounds out Blackman’s quartet of well-matched talents.) Blackman quickly pivots the program with a ballad, “Heaven Sent,” whose yearning-tinged melody hovers over a slowly unfolding harmonic cadence, its resemblance to Wayne Shorter’s ’60s ballads reinforced by Allen’s smoldering tenor. The album’s tone deepens further with Holmes’ “Eternal Justice,” a simmering 10-minute track built on the midtempo, middle-period Coltrane blues variant, which, like McCoy Tyner on albums like Extensions, Holmes modifies with straight-up turnarounds and bridges.

Allen’s hard-swinging “Peebow’s Vibe” pivots the program again, setting up a finale comprised of Blackman’s two most ambitious compositions. “Paradise Island” connects the dots between the Tony Williams-driven groove of Miles and latter day avant-groove miners like the M-Base Collective. Beefed up with overdubbed keyboards, the full reading of the wistful yet resolute “Call to the Ancestors” gives a glimpse of Blackman’s potential in a more orchestral setting (there are two minute-long pre-echoes of the piece earlier in the album that are inconclusive). Appropriately, given the album’s title, the program does not end with an exclamation point, but with an ellipsis.