The Caribbean Jazz Project begins a new chapter with merengues,cha chas and more on Island Stories. Certain to be one of the most spectacular Latin jazz releases to come out this year, Island Stories continues the evolution of The Caribbean Jazz Project, a superband featuring Paquito D'Rivera, Dave Samuels and Andy Narell, which gained international acclaim with its 1995 self-titled debut.
Blending the unique sounds of Narell's steel pan, Samuels' vibes and marimba, and the virtuoso musings of D'Rivera on alto sax and clarinet, this ensemble is a world music melting pot featuring the sounds of the Caribbean, Latin America, Brazil and Cuba and mixing it with the tradition of jazz. The Project is rounded out with Dario Eskenzai on piano, Oscar Stagnaro on bass, Mark Walker on drums and Pemell Saturnino on percussion.
Jazz groups can be fragile entities, by the very improvisational nature of the music and the intuitive ebb and flow of musicians' lives. But, sometimes, an ensemble idea takes root and creates a self-perpetuating momentum of its own. With the release of its second album,Island Stories, The Caribbean Jazz Project takes another bold step in an evolution that began with the release of their well-received 1995 debut on Heads Up. Like the first album, the band, led by the legendary Cuban saxist Paquito D'Rivera, vibes/marimba player Dave Samuels, and steel pan player Andy Narell, is all about festive spirits and sophistication, with an ear towards the Caribbean musical landscape. Theirs is a celebratory sound, full of rhythmic fervor and melodic luster, but also mindful of the rich musical tradition the merging of jazz with Caribbean forms. This is a project with a mission.
CJP has more than its fair shares of resources, between the musicians' well-honed gifts for both writing and playing. This album also includes tunes from outside the group, painting a broader portrait of the musical backdrop.
One of the special tracks on Island Stories is a spicy new arrangement of "Andalucia" by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, whose work for various media left an important, and familiar, body of work. As D'Rivera says, "He was without any doubt the most representative of all Cuban composers," adding that he was a "music colossus who made extraordinary contributions to the contemporary pianistic world while creating and inspiring orchestras." From a different tip of the Latin corner, the album also features an arrangement of "Libertango," by the great Astor Piazolla. This Argentine bandoneon virtuoso, bandleader and composer contributed greatly to the legacy of Latin-American music, and his stature has only increased since his death in 1991.
Island Stories opens with D'Rivera's roiling "Bluellespie," a Cuban-bop tune which bows to the inspiration of Dizy Gillespie, whose affinity for Cuban music and natural blend of jazz and Cuban music helped bring the two together. On this project, Narell's compositions range from "Calabash," with its intricate balance of melodic material and counter-riffs, to the undulating sway and fetching melodies of "Zigzag" and "Shadow Play."
Samuels contributes three pieces to the album, including "Sadie's Dance" - a dance tune with rhythmic drive and a fascinating, quirky chord pattern. With "Tjaded Motion," Samuels pays witty respects to a mentor,Cal Tjader, the late vibist who was instrumental in fostering the Latin jazz scene. Samuels' solid tune "Grass Roots" closes the album on a typically tasteful note, alternating between medium heat exchanges and high voltage grooving.Dario Eskenazi also contributes a beautiful ballad entitled "The Lost Voice."
Through it all, CJP takes advantage of its distinctive, flexible format, with D'Rivera's soaring voice atop a variety of percussion sounds. Between Samuels on mallet instruments, Narell's deft extensions on the Trinidadian steel pans, and the rhythm section's urgings, this group is a powerful groove machine with a twist. As Samuels comments, "this instrumentation, as far I know, is really the only grouping of its sort on the planet. So we have the opportunity to break new ground, and that's really exciting. We're always talking about incorporating new elements into the music that interests us. There are many possibilities and we feel like we've just scratched the surface."
"We all bring different elements," Narell says. "I've brought in calypso,soca and French Caribbean styles. Paquito, of course, has a really deep background in Afro-Cuban music. Dave is really eclectic and interested in all these different kinds of music. The general like-mindedness you look for is to have people who seriously study how other people play their music, and embrace it. We are all from different countries, but it works because of that mentality."
CJP is a band of artists with solo careers in their own right, but who have found a common platform to which they can bring their ideas. "It's been easy to work with this group," D'Rivera comments. "We respect each other. I like the way they approach their instruments very much. I like listening to their solos. I don't wait for my turn to play. I am like a spectator. Every night, something beautiful comes out. I am basically having fun."
With a self-descriptive name like The Caribbean Jazz Project, the musicians would seem to know precisely where they're coming from, in more ways than one. But they also understand the importance of putting the music above issues of style, and being open to new ideas that pop up. Samuels explains that "all three of us have a consensus about what we consider to be good music. As a group, the three of us come across with a strong sense of identity. That's rare."