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Joe Chambers – Horace to Max – Savant

On his latest outing, Horace to Max, drummer Joe Chambers pays tribute to friends and fellow artists.

Joe Chambers – Horace to Max – Savant SCD 2107, 49:54 ****:

(Joe Chambers – drums, vibes, marimba, producer; Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone; Xavier Davis – piano; Dwayne Burno – bass; Steve Berrios – percussion, drums; Nicole Guiland – voice (tracks 4 & 7); Helen Sung – piano (track 7); Richie Goode – bass (track 7))

Joe Chambers started to gig professionally in the early 1960s after he arrived in the Big Apple, but despite his influence on one or more generations of drummers, he has never had the recognition of artists with a higher stature such as Art Blakey, Tony Williams or Buddy Rich. But among fellow musicians, critics and stalwart fans the drummer, pianist, vibraphonist and composer is notable for his constancy, reliability and creativity.

On Chambers’ second album for the Savant label, Horace to Max, Chambers offers tribute to fallen heroes, lost friends and peers. With his quintet that includes tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dwayne Burno and percussionist Steve Berrios – plus three guests – Chambers runs through nine tracks totaling 50 minutes that ranges from bop to Afro-Cuban to two vocal cuts (courtesy of Nicole Guiland).

Throughout, Chambers swings and exhibits his substantial chops on drums, marimba and vibes, often overdubbing over his own contributions. He’s aptly abetted by Berrios and together the two keep the percussion elements upfront and vibrant.

Chambers began an association with Max Roach in 1970 as a charter member of the innovative ensemble M’Boom, which gave Chambers insights into composition, the business side of music and the dynamics of using multiple percussive instruments. Chambers devotes remembrance of his comrade and mentor, who passed away in 2007, with three specific pieces, although Roach’s spirit and drive is hinted at on nearly all the material. Up first is Roach’s “Man from South Africa,” an energetic 7/8 number that includes a rousing Alexander tenor sax solo and Berrios’ simmering hand percussion. Taking a cue from what he learned from Roach, Chambers makes the tumbling rendition feel like it was cut in 2/4 time, affording a sense of accessibility. Vocalist Nicole Guiland appears on two other Roach tunes. On the still-relevant and sharply political “Mendacity” Guiland effectively echoes Abbey Lincoln’s original voicing, while Alexander presents a soulful solo that is less pleading but no less pleasing than Eric Dolphy’s effort on the same song. Chambers commences on vibes and then moves to his drum kit for a brisk break. Guiland is joined by pianist Helen Sung and bassist Richie Goode on another Roach track, “Lonesome Lover,” which also began life as a vehicle for Abbey Lincoln. Chambers’ vibes and Sung’s piano superbly combine forces and Guiland appreciably escalates her emotional state as the composition progresses.

Other highlights include a boisterous interpretation of Thelonius Monk’s “Evidence,” also done by Roach, which features a new intro and invigorating offerings from Chambers and Davis. Two tunes connected with Miles Davis are equally memorable: Marcus Miller’s evocative “Portia,” from Davis’ release Tutu, has Chambers overdubbing marimba and vibes, while Wayne Shorter’s “Water Babies,” found on the Davis compilation of the same name, is fronted by a potent tenor sax and vibes interaction.

1. Asiatic Raes
2. Ecaroh
3. Man from South Africa
4. Mendacity
5. Portia
6. Water Babies
7. Lonesome Lover
8. Evidence
9. Afreeka

— Doug Simpson

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