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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 NowLive 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.
Track Listing: Rendezvous; Naima; Five for Elvin; Soul Sauce; Picture Frame; Stolen Moments; Birds of a Feather; Afro Green; Bemsha Swing.
Personnel: 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).