DownBeat March 2021

Joe Chambers Heads Back to Blue Note


MALLET MASTER AND COMPOSER JOE Chambers found his footing in 1963, when he moved to New York and built a reputation as a first-call drummer for Blue Note’s stable of stars, among them Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Hutcherson. “I didn’t really learn how to play until I came to New York,” Chambers, 78, said during December fromhis home inWilmington, North Carolina. “I learned what swing was all about, what drive was all about.” It was an unfortunate coincidence that, in March, just as he had returned to the Big Apple to record his first Blue Note album in 22 years, the pandemic hit the city andhe had tohead back to the relatively safer confines of hisWilmington home. “NewYork got ridiculous with the virus,” he explained. “I said, ‘Later for that.’” But all was not lost. Determined todeliver his album, he replaced New York pianist Rick Germanson and bassist Ira Coleman—both of whom appeared on his previous album, 2016’s Landscapes (Savant)—with, respectively, North Carolina-based Brad Merritt and Steve Haines. In April, Haines said, he and Merritt received notes on themusic fromChambers. In June, fully masked and socially distanced, they laid down tracks in a North Carolina studio. The album, Samba DeMaracatu , is set to be released Feb. 26. “Because of the virus everything was sort of thrown together,” Haines lamented, even as he praised Chambers’ ability to draw on his expe- rience and fashion a satisfying outcome. “The thing about Joe is, he’s got a tremendous width and depth of knowledge of music.” That knowledge is reflected throughout the nine-track collection as Chambers—his vibra- phone and percussion, layered over previous- ly recorded piano, bass and drums—recalls key collaborations. The disc revisits “Visions,” from Hutcherson’s album Spiral . On the new record- ing, Chambers, behind the vibes, reveals a rich tone and modernist sensibility that echo without imitating his former boss. “Bobby always had his own sound on the instrument, more than Milt [Jackson] or Lionel Hampton, from the old school,” he said. Chambers took up the vibraphone in 1970, whenMax Roach asked him to join his new per- cussion ensembleM’Boom. Under Roach’s guid- ance, Chambers and the group’s other mem- bers gathered at Warren Smith’s studio on West 21st Street in Manhattan for a year of Saturdays to become proficient on a range of percussion instruments. Chambers, whose first instrument was piano, took to the vibes immediately. “It was just amatter of getting the sticking,” he said.

Maria Schneider

Grammys Rescheduled: The Grammy Awards will be presented onMarch 14, and a portion of the ceremonywill be broadcast live by CBS. Big band leaders John Beasley andMaria Schneider, pianist Gerald Clayton and trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah are among the artists who have receivedmultiple nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. After initially announcing that the ceremonywould take place Jan. 31, the RecordingAcademy an- nounced on Jan. 5 that the datewould be changed, citing pandemic health concerns. Graves Returns: Keyboardist and com- poser CameronGraves returns with Seven , his sophomore album, slated for a Feb. 19 release onArtistryMusic. Like his 2017 de- but, Planetary Prince , the forthcoming disc features contributions fromsaxophonist Kamasi Washington. InMemoriam: Pianist JuniorMance , an Illinois-born artist who performedwith everyone fromDizzy Gillespie and Lester Young toDinahWashington and Joe Williams, has died at the age of 92. “Hewas just as happy holding court at the piano in his college classroomas hewas playing for audiences in swanky clubs in Europe,” saxophonist AndrewHadrowrote in an email toDownBeat. “I learnedmore from himthan just about anyone, yet I never felt like hewas trying to teach.” Final Bar: Frank Kimbrough , a pianist, composer, educator and longtimemember of theMaria Schneider Orchestra, diedDec. 30 inQueens at age 64. ... French jazz pia- nist Claude Bolling diedDec. 29 at the age of 89near Paris. ... Cleveland-born pianist Bobby Few , who led his own dates, record- edwithAlbert Ayler and Steve Lacy, and left the States behind for a life in France, died Jan. 6 in Paris at age 85. ... Howard John- son , a tuba player andmulti-instrumentalist who led groups and spent five years in the Saturday Night Live house band, diedJan. 11 inHarlemat theageof 79.

Percussionist Joe Chambers, 78, had returned to New York to record a Blue Note leader date just as the pandemic hit the city.

On Samba De Maracatu , that labor is still bearing fruit on a Chambers contribution to M’Boom’s book, “Circles.”The tune appeared on M’Boom’s 1984 album Collage , and Chambers’ new treatment parallels the format of the earlier version, employing a Bahian rhythmwithmixed meters, modal harmony and a sonorous impro- visation in which the overdubbed vibraphone and piano play “together.” If the new album has an outlier it is “New York State Of Mind Rain.”The tune brings to the fore a fragment of Chambers’ “Mind Rain” that rapper Nas sampled for his 1994 hit “N.Y. State Of Mind.” The tune first was heard as a mind- bending keyboard duet with organist Larry Young on 1977’s Double Exposure . The new album’s spin-off, a belated response to Nas, incorporates a rap that, while smartly penned by his son, Fenton Chambers, and slickly executed by MC Parrain, does not herald a new direction for the elder Chambers. “I’m not a fan of rap or hip-hop,” he said. “I understand it. It’s not new.” Instead, a stylistic counterweight is singer Stephanie Jordan’s dreamy take on “Never Let Me Go.” Floating over Chambers’ subtle bole- ro, Jordan’s voice projects the kind of captivating appeal that could landher a spot in a future large- scale recording project of Chambers’—pending, he said, the easing of public-health concerns. “If we get past this,” he said of the pandemic, “I do want to do an orchestral record, with per- cussion and singer and everything.”  —Phillip Lutz


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