Drummer/vibraphonist/composer/educator Joe Chambers' Horace to Max is an awesome display of versatility and master musicianship; that's impossible to put away, it gets better with each listen. The distinctive blue-and-black colored cover design is similar to those fine Blue Note records of the 1960s and 1970s. The disc possesses a subtle suggestive theme that can only be described as plain old protest music, showing that times have not really changed; despite being written decades ago, the music's lyrics, meaning and intended audience remain relevant. This is a proactive, uplifting album of contemporary music par excellence that moves along at a tightly arranged and cohesive pace, giving cause to pause and think about the shape of the world.
Chambers' selection of musicians is a big plus, with some of the best, most seasoned players on the scene, including tenor saxophone sensation Eric Alexander and the superb/in-demand pianist Xavier Davis. Sturdy bassist Dwayne Bruno and veteran, in-the-pocket percussionist Steve Berrios round out a dream band, producing a memorable, exciting and lovely musical voyage that includes elements of African and Latin music amidst waltzes, swinging selections and ballads. Two earthy tunes feature singer Nicole Guiland, whose excellent work on Max Roach's highly political "Mendacity" (originally recorded by Abbey Lincoln) is pure magic. She also sounds heavenly on Lincoln's "Lonesome Lover," also featuring pianist Helen Sung.
An all-star treatment of trumpeter Kenny Dorham's rarely recorded "Asiatic Raes" opens the disc, with Chambers' drums underneath a colorful, calypso-like intro that ultimately yields to seriously hip solos from Alexander, Davis and Chambers, whose subtle, smooth drumming leads this swinging affair. Roach's "The Man From South Africa" is the album's best track, a mesmerizing piece that travels to Africa, and is the perfect vehicle for Alexander to dig deep into his bag for a John Coltrane/George Coleman-like vibe and the happy, sunny sound the cut needs; the album released in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the end of Nelson Mandela's 27-year incarceration. "The Man From South Africa" is as current as it getsclear proof that music is, indeed, timeless.
Horace to Max is more than an extension of Chambers' first Savant release, 2006's The Outlaw, which featured the music of Horace Silver. Horace to Max is much more message-driven, more mindful of the difference music can make in peoples' lives, and evidence of how good music can, at the very least, lead to meaningful discussion about global problems. Horace to Max also proves that the Carolina jazz connection is alive and well; Chambers currently resides in the birthplace of Trane, Roach, Thelonious Monk and Nina Simone as a distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Some say it's the North Carolina water that has helped produce this fruitful, spiritual group of prominent jazz musicians. There is, indeed, a great deal to drink in, because North Carolina has a deep, immensely creative and very rich wellspring.
Asiatic Raes; Ecaroh; Man from South Africa; Mendacity; Portia; Water Babies; Lonesome Lover; Evidence; Afreeka.
Joe Chambers: drums (1, 3, 4, 6-8), vibraphone (2-7, 9); marimba (5, 6, 9); Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone (1-6, 8, 9); Xavier Davis: piano (1-6, 8); Dwayne Burno: bass (1-6, 8, 9); Steve Berrios: conga drums (1, 9), drums (2, 5), percussion (3, 6, 8); Nicole Guiland: vocal (4, 7); Helen Sung: piano (7); Richie Goode: bass (7).