Despite his failing health, Blackwell's skills on his drum kit were razor-sharp when he got on the bandstand for this headliner's gig at the third annual Eddie Moore Memorial Jazz Festival, recorded at Yoshi's in Oakland, CA. just two months before he passed away. Everything clicks -- the band is tight, powered by the supple bass of Mark Helias, while saxophonist/flutist Carlos Ward and trumpeter Graham Haynes play inspired, almost possessed improvs and written lines, bent on giving the audience their best, and Blackwell the proper setting to weave his percussive wizardry. First up are pieces written by Ward. "'Nette," sporting a bright unison horn line, suggests Monk's angularity and Ornette Coleman's interval-leaping vision of expansion. It's a good swinger, with Blackwell in lockstep from the outset. "Pettiford Bridge" is head-nodding in steady swing mode, a soulful bass ostinato informing Coleman-like broken phrases strung together with twine. Ward's alto sax is particularly riveting in its bluesy imaging, and Blackwell offers a patented solo. "Beau Regard," at 13 minutes, is one of the next two compositions worked out by Helias, with a more under-the-surface pacing as Blackwell breaks out in occasional fits and flurries on tom toms, framing a slower swing that buoys Ward's deliciously wafting, darting, mysterioso flute. The bassist strums on "Thumbs Up," with a popping, chattery melody by flute and muted trumpet over a kinetic swing rhythm that shifts to half-speed choogle, cued by Blackwell's cowbell, and back. Ward warms to the task with a most comprehensive solo, all the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm and ethnic slants folded into one; Blackwell's fever induces the band to play the tail section with even more vigor. Ward wrote the final two selections; an inquisitive, dirge-like, brooding sax/trumpet line breaks off into Blackwell's tunefully melodic, boppish mallets on toms for "Mallet Song," while the 12-minute "Rosa Takes a Stand" is another well-swung jam, loose and free with choppy staccato insertions, and a bass solo by Helias cutting him slack alone. This first set is one of two available, and it's the better of the lot. Both are necessary for the Blackwell completist, but this particular volume is his best work as a leader, and a great example of where modern jazz in the '90s landed. A must-buy for all.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos