By Frank Alkyer | Published March 2021
If you like your jazz with a heaping helping of swirling, wondrous rhythm, Samba de Maracatu by the legendary Joe Chambers will fill you up.
Be it on drums, percussion or mallets, Chambers has been one of the great sidemen in jazz history, providing the beat for everyone from Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson and Sam Rivers to Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Chet Baker … just to scratch the surface. He’s also had a diverse and incredible career as a leader.
Now, at the tender age of 78, Chambers makes his Blue Note Records debut as a leader, even though he played on some of the most important recordings in the label’s history. Even so, Samba de Maracatu is miraculous in its ability to be both timely and timeless, worldly, yet intimate. Chambers is joined here by Brad Merritt on piano and Steve Haines on bass, two North Carolinians who groove and complement the maestro’s aesthetic.
For his part, Chambers serves as a one-man percussion machine, overdubbing himself on drums, vibes and percussion to turn this trio into a small, pulsating orchestra. The album’s title cut offers a nod to Afro-Brazilian rhythms rooted in the Candomblé religion of Brazil’s Pernambuco province. It features Merritt and Chambers running parallel lines on piano and vibes in front of a deep-running groove. On Horace Silver’s “Ecaroh,” Chambers leads in with solo vibraphone, wringing, and ringing, every ounce of shimmer and reverb from each note before diving into the tune’s intricate twists and turns.
The recording also features two great vocal spots. First, New Orleans chanteuse Stephanie Jordan delivers a gripping rendition of “Never Let Me Go.” It’s a dreamlike moment of music noir. Second, and more surprisingly, Chambers does a mashup of Nas’ hip-hop classic “N.Y. State of Mind” with Chambers’ own “Mind Rain.” MC Parrain drops the rhymes on this one, and it works as another layer of intricate percussion in Chambers’ multilayer universe.
The nine-tune set concludes with a reworking of Wayne Shorter’s “Rio,” and just like the rest of the album, this river just flows.
To get a deeper dive into Chambers and this project, check out his interview with Blue Note President Don Was on First Look.