Mosaic is the first studio album since 2003 by the Carribean Jazz Project, led by vibes/marimba specialist Dave Samuels. Drawing on a variety of Afro-Cuban, Venezuelan, Peruvian, Jamaican and other North American rhythms, this release features three different bands. On four tracks, Samuels leads a quintet with keyboardist Alain Mallet, bassist Boris Kozlov, drummer Dafnis Prieto and percussionist Roberto Quintero. Two other tracks feature violinist Christian Howes, and the remaining three selections find Samuels reunited with former CJP co-founders reedman Paquito D'Rivera and steel pan player Andy Narell.
Best known for his lengthy tenure with Spyro Gyra, Samuels' resume also lists stints with Gerry Mulligan and Frank Zappa. His mallet work, a key element in Spyro Gyra's sound, added a "tropical" feel and made the group's music more accessible in many ways.
Jazz critics singled him out for praise, suggesting that if he were liberated from Spyro Gyra's somewhat formulaic "smooth jazz" recipe, something more creative might be forthcoming. However, after leaving the group, his solo recordings tended to be disappointing commercial offerings that fell into the soothing and vacuous world of airplay jazzeasy-listening, predictable music with light funk rhythms that are upbeat but instantly forgettable.
Samuels has an original voice on vibesnot an easy thing to accomplishand he leaves his stamp on any project with which he's involved. This certainly applies to the CJP, which is, for all practical purposes, the Dave Samuels Project. This album's subtitle ("featuring Dave Samuels") is an understatement: he not only led the session, he produced the recording. Always a prolific songwriter, he penned four of the tunes on Mosaic, and the overall sound evokes the best and worst of Spyro Gyra: the brilliant musicianship and the highly polishedover-refined to some earsproduction.
Samuels seems aware of a general perception of his music as often more pleasant than challenging. Discussing his decision to record a live album (Here and Now, 2005), he noted that ..." in the studio is where you can get this kind of veneer/urethane coating ... that sometimes can disguise the intent and intensity of the music." Some critics viewed the CJP as a slightly threadworn outfit in need of new blood, and another Samuels comment suggests he knew it, too. "I realized that as the personnel started to change... things were re-invigorated," he said in a 2005 interview. "There was a rebirth of sorts...."
With Mosaic, however, Samuels and the CJP are back in the studio, and the urethane coating is all too evident. Indeed, the album's glossy sheen can make it difficult, for purists at least, to appreciate its good points. Certainly, there is no faulting the musicianship. Mallet, in particular, contributes strong solos, and Prieto adds an infusion of energy throughout. The arrangements are strong, notably a sophisticated reinterpretation of Miles Davis' "Nardis."
But for better or worse (depending on one's taste), all the rough edges are smoothed and buffed, and despite the band's name and its tropical ambience, listeners looking for some real heat will probably be a bit disappointed.
Nardis; St. Ogredol; Portraits of Cuba; Afro Green; Wazo Dayzeel; Slow Dance; Spinnaker; Mambo de Luna (Para Cachao); Dusk.
Dave Samuels: vibraphone, marimba; Alain Mallet: piano, organ (1, 2, 4, 6-8); Boris Kozlov:
acoustic bass (1,2,4,6-8); Dafnis Prieto: drums (1, 2, 4, 6-8); Roberto Quintero: percussion
(1, 2, 4, 6-8); Christian Howes: violin (6, 7); Andy Narell: steel pans (3, 5, 9); Paquito D'Rivera: alto sax, clarinet (3, 5, 9); Alon Yavnai: piano (3, 5, 9); Oscar Stagnaro: electric bass (3, 5, 9);
Mark Walker: drums (3, 5, 9); Pernell Saturnino: percussion (3, 5, 9).