With this superbly produced set, Dave Samuels, composer, and vibraphone player, reaches what the CD inlay indicates is the eighth issued set by this band.
It’s not the sort of culturally Jamaican or Windean or Barbadian band London has to show, nothing really to do with Monty Alexander here, or Ernest Ranglin, or Arturo Sandoval, least of all the last-named’s grandstanding and notinthebestofpossible-tasteness.
Almost a pity, that.
Two distinct bands are represented on this CD, neither of them really a fount of physical excitement. Leader Samuels likes to have classy musicians about him, Christian Howes on lyrical violin, Dafnis Prieto on subtle drums. Everybody’s subtle, and at least mellow, and some very pretty noises get made, for instance by Paquito D’Rivera’s clarinet on Samuels’s own “Dusk”, even as it warms up somewhat in the course of a solo still some way off the boil when Andy Narell’s steel drums take over solo duties. The steel drums begin dreamy and warm into something less so, without becoming less interesting in the process.
Dreaminess and atmospheric effects of a sort lend themselves to recur in the course of the nine tracks, three with Narell and D’Rivera, the other six with Homes, and Alan Mallet playing piano but more often organ. On his own “Slow Dance”, he contributes to a performance which with Howes to the fore sounds more directly after the fashion of Piazzolla than some others.
Piazzolla with less sting and a vibraphone orientation is one fair approximation to what’s here.
Prieto with Roberto Quintero on percussion set up some complex cross-rhythms on Mallet’s “St. Ogredol”, not sparking the line of the theme and improvisations—as Cuban musicians once did for beboppers. The cross-rhythms rather diffuse impressions of linearity. Prieto’s drum solo, though subdued, is a welcome presentation of clarity in this modal and baroque relative of the old standard “What’s New”. D’Rivera’s “Portraits of Cuba” isn’t an urgent performance, though he does get going on alto saxophone, at least for a time. It’s an exceptionally nice number and I’d fancy a performance with as much freedom as I’ve seen and heard from Bobby Watson, for instance within Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Presumably the theme’s altoist composer could get going with it in a hard bop context. I could also imagine Andy Narell socking somewhat more, with the ringing echo his instrument allows. Samuels plays marimba on this track, soft focus sound in a set not short of precision and ingenuity rather than passion or intensity.