Joe Chambers: Samba de Maracatu

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Joe Chambers is one of the most prolific and intriguing jazz drummers and jazz songwriters working today. He's also a superb vibraphonist and percussionist, and he has recorded on piano. Chambers came up in the mid-1960s as an in-demand sideman for the Blue Note label. His first album date was on Freddie Hubbard's Breaking Point! in 1964. The list of Blue Note albums that followed is staggering—three with Andrew Hill, 10 with Bobby Hutcherson, two with Joe Henderson, four with Wayne Shorter and one with Sam Rivers, to name just 20. On other labels, there were four with Max Roach's M'Boom group, three with Charles Mingus on Atlantic, two with Woody Shaw, six with Archie Shepp and he was on Miles Davis's In a Silent Way. Chambers's own leadership career began in 1974 with The Almoravid for Muse.

Now Chambers has returned to Blue Note for his latest album, Samba de Maracatu. It's his first leadership album in five years and serves up a mix of styles and moods ranging from the standards You and the Night and the Music and Never Let Me Go (with a vocal by Stephanie Jordan) to three originals. One of them features a rap vocal by MC Parrain. The track is New York State of Mind Rain, an overlay of Nas’s 1994 N.Y. State of Mind and Chambers’s Mind Rain, from his Double Exposure album in 1978 for Muse.

Also on the album are interpretations of Hutcherson's Visions, Wayne Shorter's Rio and Karl Ratzer's Sabah el Nur. Backing Chambers are pianist Brad Merritt and bassist Steve Haines. Chambers overdubbed his vibraphone and percussion after the basic tracks were recorded. The highlight for me is Horace Silver's Ecaroh, on which the Chambers Trio creates a beautiful rendition of an already spectacular song. It's so good I almost wish the album had more Silver, especially since Chambers already recorded Ecaroh on Landscape in 2016.

Born in Stoneacre, Va., in 1942, Chambers was raised in Chester, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb. He studied at the Philadelphia Conservatory and American University in Washington, D.C. At 18, Chambers began working professionally in an R&B group fronted by Bobby Lewis. He also began playing with the JFK Quintet, which performed at D.C.'s Bohemian Caverns six nights a week. That's where Hubbard first heard Chambers and brought him into his group.

Chambers began teaching at New York's New School in 1990. He recently retired from the classroom to spend more time as a jazz instrumentalist, composer and bandleader. As we can hear on Chambers's new album, he's still pushing the envelope.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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