The leader's wish that rhythm should as naturally as patterns of breathing set enormous problems for this group, particularly on the level of avoiding collision. Blackwell's style is simpler, less cluttered than most of the drummers'; a tight snare sound dominates, propelling the rolling tattoo figures and often echoing the alto phrases. It is concentrated palying that deftly avoids the equally innovative use of rhythm by bassists like Charlie Haden, Scott La Faro or Jimmy Garrison.
Blackwell's solo feature on T & T (Ornette!) shows the close links between rhythm and melody in the new music, as well as the drummer's African learnings. Comparison's between Blackwell and Higgins can be drawn from their paired solos (Free Jazz and Twins) with the former's heart of darkness drum rolls followed by Higgins' flaring cymbal work.
Again, the drummer's work with Ornette's trumpeter, Don Cherry, is pivotal. The music constantly changes direction and requires a rare blend of self-effacement and initiative (Complete Communion, Symphony For Improvisors) and Where Is Brooklyn . Cherry's composition for a large group (Relatively Suite) features Blackwell on March Of The Hobbits . The interaction between trumpeter and drummer is most clearly shown on the two albums made for the deleted French Label BYG (Mu, Parts One & Two) a duo that never sounds remotely restricted in textural range.
Ill-health has dogged Blackwell's career (in fact, he's on a kidney machine three times a week) and recent years have seen few albums.
by: Yasir Agha