Afro Bop Alliance (Heads Up Records)
Caribbean Jazz Project
Released March 25, 2008
Grammy Nominee for Best Latin Jazz Album 2009
The Caribbean Jazz Project, the Latin jazz collective of vibraphonist David Samuels, steel pan drummer Andy Narell and saxophonist Paquito d’Rivera, crafted their first recordings on Heads Up International in the 1990s and immediately captured the imagination of audiences and critics worldwide. In the years since, the GRAMMY® Award winning ensemble CJP lead by Samuels has recorded subsequent albums on the Concord label and a few of the faces in the group’s roster have changed. Nevertheless, Samuels and company continue to explore and test the commonly accepted boundaries of Latin jazz – and jazz in general – via innovative compositions and exciting arrangements.
The Caribbean Jazz Project – Afro Bop Alliance recasts nine CJP signature pieces – some by Samuels and others by Coltrane, Monk and other jazz luminaries – in a fresh new light via full-bodied arrangements by the Maryland-based Afro Bop Alliance, one of the most exciting new bands on the Latin jazz scene today. Since their inception less than five years ago, the brassy and high-energy Afro Bop Alliance has electrified audiences at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Jazz Café, The W. C. Handy Jazz Festival and many other music and cultural festivals. The set opens with light-hearted and energetic “Rendezvous.” The Afro Bop horns bring a level of energy that complements the CJP rhythm section of bassist Max Murray drummer Joe McCarthy and percussionist Roberto Quintero. The followup track is a breezy but solid rendition of Coltrane’s classic “Naima,” with a horn and vibe counterpoint that moves the piece along toward a coda that eventually stretches the limits of melody and percussion to the limits of tonality and rhythm. In the final stretch, “Afro Green” opens with a mysterious sounding marimba/percussion mix that underscores a majestic horn arrangement, then segues into a more traditional jazz groove. The closer is an intriguing rendition of Monk’s well-known “Bemsha Swing” that takes the jazz classic beyond its traditional moorings into a more experimental realm.
1. Rendezvous (Dave Samuels) 4:55
2. Naima (John Coltrane) 6:10
3. Five for Elvin (Dave Samuels) 8:45
4. Soul Sauce (Milton Delugg / Dizzy Gillespie / Chano Pozo / Pauline Rivelli / Robert Thiele) 5:20
5. Picture Frame (Dave Samuels) 6:30
6. Stolen Moments 8:35
7. Birds of a Feather (Dave Samuels) 4:55
8. Afro Green (Dave Samuels) 7:41
9. Bemsha Swing (Denzil Best / Thelonious Monk) 7:52
Dave Samuels: vibes, marimba
Steve Williams: lead alto, soprano saxophone, solo (2)
Andy Axelrad: alto saxophone
Luis Hernandez: tenor saxophone, solos
Vince Norman: tenor saxophone
Rob Holmes: baritone saxophone
Chris Walter: lead trumpet
Nick Cooper: trumpet
Greg Reese: trumpet
Tim Stanley: trumpet, solo
Dan Drew: lead trombone
Jim McFalls: trombone
Mark Morgan: bass trombone
Harry Appelman: piano
J.J. Wright: piano (3)
Max Murray: bass
Joe McCarthy: drums, percussion (bells, timbale, clave, chekere, shakers)
Robert Quintero: percussion (congas, bongos, maracas)
Recorded at Bias Studio, Springfield, VA
Producer: Dave Samuels
Assistant Producer: Joe McCarthy
Executive Producer: Dave Love
Engineer: Bob Dawson
Mastered and Mixed by Phil Magnotti
Big Band Orchestrations by Dan Drew
Design: Robert Hoffman
Photography by Scott Mullin and Tommy Huynh
Lionel Hampton was one of the first “real” jazz vibraphonists. In more recent years, Gary Burton has been among those who have kept the instrument an integral part of the jazz scene. However, another name is also synonymous with the instrument. That is Dave Samuels.
A longtime member of Spyro Gyra who occasionally reunites with the group, performing on a few songs here and there for recordings, Samuels is a master of both the vibraphone and the marimba. He also, when desiring a certain effect, has used a mallet-triggered synthesizer. After a brief solo career that included such recordings as Living Colors (MCA, 1988) and Ten Degrees North (MCA, 1989), Samuels joined forces with pals Paquito D’Rivera on alto sax and clarinet and Andy Narell on steel pans, to form the Caribbean Jazz Project. D’Rivera and Narell are no longer with the group, but Samuels is still its leader.
Afro Bop Alliance revisits nine songs previously recorded by CJP, done this time with the Maryland-based Afro Bop Alliance, a big band with a Latin sound.
The set begins with a dynamic offering of “Rendezvous,” a track Samuels wrote for the Africa-themed Ten Degrees North and later appeared on CJP’s Grammy-nominated Here and Now—Live in Concert (Concord, 2005). While the first two recordings are exceptional, this one is equally engaging. With a heavy dose of horns, Joe McCarthy and Roberto Quintero splitting percussion duties, and Tim Stanley’s trumpet solo, “Rendezvous” is more exciting than ever.
John Coltrane’s “Naima,” which also was on Here and Now, is moderately paced. Samuels’ vibraphone solo is the highlight, but the CJP rhythm section of McCarthy, Quintero and Max Murray on bass, complements the entire package. Steve Williams contributes an elegant soprano saxophone solo, underscored by soft horns. “Five for Elvin,” another Samuels original, gives the percussionists plenty of room to stretch out. First, they underscore Samuels’ marimba solo, complemented by Murray and pianist J.J. Wright. Later in the song, McCarthy and Quintero are out front, accompanied only by piano and bass, setting up the song’s closing.
Samuels and the rhythm section set up Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments.” Luis Hernandez contributes a moving tenor sax solo, which gives way to Samuels on the marimba, punctuated by an amplified horn section. The horns then back off, leaving it to Samuels, pianist Harry Appelman and the rhythm section; Murray’s bass stands out and the horns come back in to help close the song.
Other tracks presented here are Dizzy Gillespie’s “Soul Sauce,” Thelonius Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” and Samuels’ “Picture Frame,” “Birds of a Feather” and “Afro Green.” Throughout, the Afro Bop horn section is strong but doesn’t overpower CJP. Samuels, as he has done throughout his career, shows his versatility. Whether carrying the melody, stretching out on a solo or complementing the other musicians, he demonstrates why he is regarded as one of the world’s leaders in jazz vibes and marimba. Afro Bop Alliance is an hour’s worth of engaging music.
Woodrow Wilkins (All About Jazz)