Cindy Blackman: Explorations

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Jazz clubs provide an intimate experience with an artist. The room is small, the stage is close, and the rest of the audience is (for the most part) quiet. But, while she was playing, Cindy Blackman did not seem to notice that this was an intimate night. She wailed away on her sparkly Gretsch five-piece kit as if we weren’t in a jazz club. The other musicians were much more reserved, only becoming animated when they were soloing, but still showcasing their wonderful musicianship. These players are jazz giants in their own right, but were clearly giving Ms. Blackman a little room. And it seemed right. Ms. Blackman was the star of the show; it is her band after all. Why shouldn’t she wail away at the drums, arms flailing, body bobbing in her instantly recognizable way? She is certainly not the type of drummer that simply keeps time. She propels the song, drives it not only with a solid groove, but by putting as many notes as she can into a measure, by experimenting with different, complex licks, by showing us everything in her bag of tricks. Her chops are something to behold, and I was seriously nerding out.

Ms. Blackman’s Explorations group made its debut at the Jazz Standard in 2009, but she has played with the likes of Wallace Roney, Sam Rivers, Joss Stone, her husband Carlos Santana, Lenny Kravitz (for over 15 years), and others. Her solo career, as was evidenced on March 28th at the Jazz Standard in New York City, is a mixture of all of these influences. You can clearly hear the jazz and rock cut through her playing, but there are even hints of pop, soul, and funk throughout. Her most recent album, Another Lifetime (2010), is an homage to jazz great Tony Williams, and her Explorations group continues that “exploration” of his work and legacy.

Ms. Blackman has created her own fusion of jazz and rock, but her playing never requires a definition or genre. Some songs she played were clearly jazz, beginning with a simple swung rhythm, like my personal favorite of the night, “Music,” which featured the upright bass and had a solid groove. But another, “Insight” (off her 2008 record Music for the New Millenium), started off swung and jumped quickly into an up-tempo, straight ahead rhythm, then back into slow swing. But my enjoyment of each piece mattered less about what genre it was or what tradition it came from, and more about how she led us through it.

She began and ended the set by introducing her band and telling the audience to, “give it up for these people because they give it up for you!” But, it was Ms. Blackman who gave us everything she had. During one of her solos she looked like she was actually going to bounce out of her seat, she was wailing away so hard. Her playing style is mesmerizing. At the end of songs people gave sighs of approval, and there was often long applause, but mostly people sat silently, watching Ms. Blackman intently, waiting to see what she would show us next. When you’re seated and the audience is silent your experience with the musicians becomes very personal. It was just me and them. I was completely focused. Every once in a while someone would exclaim their excitement or appreciation for a lick or a groove or a solo and I would be thrown back into the reality of the room. But, for most of the time I concentrated on the sights and the sounds of one of my idols.

At the end of the set Ms. Blackman introduced the bass player, Rashaan Carter, for the final time, and added, “that’s some solid bass!” There was a wave of approval from the audience. Those were some seriously solid grooves.

Set list:

“Curiosity” – Unrecorded

“Cause and Effect” – Unrecorded

“Music” – Unrecorded

“Insight” – Music for the New Millenium

“Dolores” – Unrecorded

Review by Sofia Pasternack

Photo by Jimmy Bruck

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