Drummer, composer and sometime vibraphonist Joe Chambers secured his place in jazz history going on six decades ago, though you might not guess it from listening to this album. In the mid-1960s, he was the drummer on a string of historic Blue Note albums recorded by Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Hutcherson, among others, and also on a series of important albums Archie Shepp made for Impulse!, including the landmark Fire Music (1965).
Given the timeline, it is also remarkable that Chambers's own-name debut did not come until 1974, with The Almoravid (Muse), a classic of spiritual jazz to file with fellow drummer Roy Brooks's 1972 chef d'oeuvre, The Free Slave (also Muse). But Chambers got there eventually and Dance Kobina is his sixteenth album as leader. It is his third for Blue Note, following 1998's Mirrors and 2021's Samba De Maracatu. Those were sterling efforts, though the vocals, sung and rapped, on the 2021 album are not to everyone's taste. No caveats apply to Dance Kobina, however.
The album is billed as an exploration of the links between jazz, Latin and African music. Rhythmically, Dance Kobina inhabits an adjacent space to the Max Roach-led ensemble M'Boom, in which Chambers (and Roy Brooks) played in the 1970s. Two percussionists, Cuban born Emilio Valdés and Congolese born Elli Miller Maboungou, figure significantly alongside Chambers, who is a constant, invigorating presence. But as a leader he is no grandstander, only taking one solo on the album, on a gritty version of Joe Henderson's "Power To The People," which is also notable for a booting broken-note tenor solo from Marvin Carter.
Four of the tunes are Chambers originals: an exquisitely pretty ballad, "Ruth," and the more up-tempo "Caravanserai," "Intermezzo" and "Gazelle Suite," the last a sparkling new version of a track from The Almoravid. Andrés Vial, the pianist on three tracks, wrote "Dance Kobina" and "City Of Saints." There are three covers: Henderson's "Power To The People," Kurt Weill's "This Is New" and Karl Ratzer's "Moon Dancer."
Dance Kobina's release date excludes it from Best Of 2022 lists, but it may well make it to those for 2023.
P.S. In the African language Lingala, "kobina" means "to dance."
This Is New; Dance Kobina; Ruth; Caravanserai; City Of Saints; Gazelle Suite; Intermezzo; Power To The People; Moon Dancer.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.