Reedman Paquito D’Rivera and steel drummer Andy Narell recently quit the Caribbean Jazz Project, but founder Dave Samuels (vibes) didn't abandon his concept. Samuels convinced flutist Dave Valentin and guitarist Steve Khan to form a new Project. The revamped lineup just released its first album, and it's a very nice outing. New Horizons conjures images of pristine beaches, tropical breezes and swaying palms.
Samuels was wise to switch instrumentation when D’Rivera and Narell split the band. No way he could have replaced those two. Besides, the guitar-vibes combination is a sublime one, and Khan and Samuels are a simpatico pair. Having caught Valentin once in a club setting, I know that he’s a killer musician. Still, his solo releases have been too smooth-jazzy for my tastes.
No such concerns here. The 10 tracks on New Horizons are accessible but substantial, and equal credit goes to the drummerless supporting cast: bassist John Benitez, conga-bongo master Richie Flores and timbale player Robert Vilera. Flores and Vilera generate enough tropical heat to melt all the snow in my driveway, and Samuels delivers one of his finest performances on record.
It would have been nice to hear more of Khan’s guitar, but that's my only complaint. Khan’s three compositions are the most intriguing on the album. Especially good is "Charanga, Si Si," an eight-minute tune with a catchy, intricate melody, percolating rhythms and an unexpected call-and-response vocal "coro. Wouldn’t think any band could make "A Night in Tunisia" sound new, but Samuels leads the way on an alluring fast-paced treatment. Alec Wilder’s "Moon and Sand" offers a serene change of pace. Of Samuel’s four compositions, the best is "Over the Horizon," a tune colored by Samuel’s intense marimba playing and Valentin’s gorgeous flute. And just listen to Samuel’s fiery mallet work on the CD’s polyrhythmic closer, "Rompiendo El Hielo en 2000." Percussionists Flores and Vilera seem to inspire Samuels to new heights.
If you can’t afford a winter trip to the Caribbean, New Horizons will take you there in spirit.
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