Spectrum Road is primed to recall fusion glory days
Cindy Blackman Santana doesn’t mind if you call her new project a supergroup, but the F-word makes this stellar drummer flinch.
Fusion, that is.
That’s because Spectrum Road is more about energy and feel than superhuman soloing—and because one of its main aims is to pay tribute to drum innovator and Miles Davis mainstay Tony Williams, whose band the Tony Williams Lifetime erased the boundaries between jazz and rock at a time when the two seemed not just worlds but universes apart.
“He called it jazz-rock, which is what I call it, because he brought together the sensibility, intellect, harmonies, and structures of jazz with the guttural rawness of rock,” Blackman Santana explains, on the line from her Las Vegas home. “He added some other things—like Indian music and, certainly, African music—but it’s basically a coming-together of jazz and rock. So when you’re true to the essence of that, it’s going to be intelligent, it’s going to be heartfelt, and it’s going to be like life.”
If any band seems primed to recall jazz-rock’s glory days, it’s this one. Jack Bruce made it big as the extroverted singer and bassist in the original power trio, Cream, but when that group folded in 1968, he sacrificed his solo career to make music with Williams. Guitarist Vernon Reid found hard-rock fame with Living Colour, but has long fostered a parallel career as an improviser. Keyboardist John Medeski has massive respect in the jam-band world, but is heavily influenced by the adventurous organ sounds of Lifetime’s Larry Young. And while Blackman Santana defines herself as a jazz musician, she’s spent half her life playing stadiums, first with Lenny Kravitz and more recently with her husband, Carlos Santana.
She’s also got a personal connection to Williams, having attended one of his drum clinics when she was just 16.
“His technique, his ferocity, his bravado, his sound, his concept, all of his ideas—everything, to me, was ultra, ultra, ultra supreme,” she recalls enthusiastically. “I went to see some movies that Sunday, after seeing Tony play, and I was so bored I had to leave. What I saw Tony do was so much more interesting than what I was seeing on that screen.
“I actually didn’t meet Tony that day,” she adds, “but it was definitely transforming.”
It must have been: a lifetime later she’s still fascinated by Williams’s art, and bent on sharing it with the world.
“It’s about exposure,” she says. “Once people hear this music, then they’ll grow to love it, too.”
Spectrum Road plays the Vogue Theatre on Monday (June 25) as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.