What can one say about the redoubtable Joe Chambers? An adventurous drummer with an eternally questioning spirit, he has certainly played with his share of the greats. Yet Chambers hasn’t received the same accolades as contemporaries like Elvin Jones or Tony Williams. It certainly isn’t for lack of talent or technical ability. The problem, perhaps, has to do with the fact that neither Williams nor Jones is/was as self-effacing as Chambers. Ever the tasteful accompanist, he has a way of backing into the rhythm section on his own albums. He shines the spotlight on his sidemen in a way that always calls attention to their exceptional talent, while at the same time drawing attention away from his remarkable playing.
Chambers’ latest release, Urban Groove, is about as good as it gets. An energizing set of standards and originals performed with the likes of Eric Reed, Gary Bartz, and Rufus Reid, Chambers is in top form, showing off his amazing technique not only on drums, but also vibes and marimba. Still, Chambers is careful not to pull too much attention away from his sidemen. Gary Bartz is electrifying throughout, and Eric Reed shines on piano (with a few forays into synth territory). I should say at this point that while I am a fan of both electric piano and organ, I generally despise synthesizers. It is to Reed’s credit that his use of this frequently horrible invention is used in limited and tasteful fashion here.
While the originals are compelling, it is the standards that really stand out, particularly the performances of “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Sid’s Ahead,” and “In a Sentimental Mood” that appear early on the album. Urban Grooves is a welcome addition to Chambers' discography.
Track Listing: Third Street; Softly as in a Morning Sunrise; Sid's Ahead; In a Sentimental Mood; Stella By Starlight;
Surry with the Fringe on Top; Irina; Portia; Afreeka.
Personnel: Joe Chambers, drums, vibraphone and marimba; Gary Bartz, alto and soprano saxophones; Eric
Reed, piano and synthesizer; Rufus Reid, bass; Bobby Sanabria, congas, percussions, and drums.