By: Edward Blanco

After a long history performing as a sideman on over 30 albums where he has recorded for such artists as Joe Locke, Alex Sipiagin, Brian Lynch, Wayne Escoffery, Hans Glawishing, and the Mingus Big Band among many others, drummer and composer Johnathan Blake finally releases an impressive debut album as leader. The Eleventh Hour captures Blake’s own dynamic quintet performing a ten-piece selection of mostly original compositions culminating in a dazzling display of gritty modern jazz.

In recent years, this Grammy-nominated drummer has been an important part of several working groups including the Tom Harrell, David Sanchez, Russell Malone and the Kenny Barron bands. For this recording, Blake augments his ensemble to include guest appearances from trumpeter Harrell, pianist Robert Glasper, tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield and Gregoire Maret on the harmonica. The fusion-like title track opens the session featuring Maret’s harmonica performance pressed against Glasper’s Fender Rhodes and the constant stick work from Blake with sprite lines from alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and tenor man Mark Turner. “Rio’s Dream” shines all over carried by a light melody marking this original as one of the better pieces on the album.

Trumpeter Harrell—who appears here on two tunes—contributes the under-recorded “Blue News,” takes the lead with astonishing horn play and repeats the performance on arguably the outstanding track of the set, “Time To Kill.” With the leader on the brushes delivering sweet swishes, saxophonist Turner solos delightfully on the gorgeous Randy Newman ballad “Dexter’s Tune.” The mood changes abruptly on Blake’s sizzling “Of Things To Come,” clearly a hard-driving n umber with a great deal of improvisational flavor from the horns.

The drummer’s “Freefall” is perhaps the most ambitious piece of the recording, and at ten-minutes plus, it contains plenty crashing cymbal accents and heavy stick work from the drummer supported ably by pianist Kevin Hays and other band mates. “No Left Turn” and “Clues” round out the originals of the album before closing on the Glasper piece “Canvas.” As previously stated, Johnathan Blake is no journeyman on the drums as his performance on The Eleventh Hour clearly indicates. When you combine his skills on the drums with the quality of his compositions on this album, there is little doubt that this first effort as leader will garner critical acclaim.
Year: 2011 Label: Sunnyside Records Artist Web: