Ed Blackwell made a name for himself in the early '60s drumming with Ornette Coleman's band (Blackwell plays on the free jazz classics THIS IS OUR MUSIC, FREE JAZZ, and ORNETTE ON TENOR). His distinctive approach to timekeeping, which highlights tribal rhythms and New Orleans marching band cadences, is on excellent display on WHAT IT BE LIKE, one of his few dates as a leader. "Nebula," the opener, features a tumbling horn melody with Blackwell providing almost martial accents on the snare, and is an excellent example of his style.
The compositional palette on WHAT IT BE LIKE is broad, with tones, textures, and atmospheres shifting throughout the track list. In "Pentahouve," exuberance prevails with a fragmented Latin shuffle providing the context for a dazzling rhythmic dialogue between Blackwell and flautist Carlos Ward. On the album's closer and set piece, the almost 30-minute "Lito (Parts 1, 2 & 3)," trumpeter Don Cherry joins the ensemble for an evocative exploration of fractured melodies and snake-charmer motifs over a repeated rhythmic pattern. After each band member has soloed, Blackwell's strictly metered flourishes over the snare and tom-toms close out the tune, which in turn closes out this fine set of vital, adventurous jazz.