CD Review: Joe Chambers Moving Pictures Orchestra (Savant Records) by Larry Reni Thomas

Recorded live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in New York City!

Moving Pictures, the third Savant Records release, from drummer, percussionist, vibraphonist, educator, Joe Chambers, is his most ambitious, elaborate, ear-pleasing project to date. It features a big band and was recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York City, September 2011, and shows that he is an excellent composer as well as a superb musician. Most of the compositions were written and arranged by him and the album is proof that drummers can write just as well as anybody else. In fact, he is one of the few drummers, to be able to say that. The only other one that comes to mind is his mentor and dear friend, the late Max Roach.

The album is actually a suite with pleasurable moods and grooves all guided by Chambers’ smooth, graceful drumming. The Moving Pictures Suite is divided into four movements with a large ensemble consisting of sixteen members, (plus the sultry, distinctive vocalist Nicole Guiland), who are all first-class New York City-based musicians. Joe, who was lives in North Carolina, and was the distinguished professor of jazz, at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, at the time of this recording, deserves a gold medal for being able to produce such a fine session. It must have been quite a job, a labor of love to write and make sure all the musicians had the music, to travel to New York for rehearsals, and still deliver a stellar performance.

Highlights include the swinging “Irina” which included hot solos from saxophonist Tim Green, trumpeter Greg Gisbert, and Chambers. Gisbert is especially sizzling on this tune and is fast becoming one of the hottest brass men on the scene. His sound is reminiscent of a classy Clifford “Brownie” Brown and a delightfully daring Lee Morgan. To say he rises to the occasion on “Irina” would be an understatement. Joe’s solo on the end of the selection is powerful, yet delicate, and puts a bright, busy ending, an exclamation point to what is probably the strongest piece on the recording.

“Ruth,” a slow, thought-provoking composition, written for his wife, is also a nice melodic tune that stands out. It has melancholy, contemplative feel to it, with lush arrangements that should be performed in a movie about two people in love. Speaking of amour, the vocalist Nicole Guiland’s gorgeous treatment of Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln ’s “Lonesome Lover” is very good, as is her wonderful rendition of Max’s pungent, political gem “Mendacity.” Adding Guiland to the show, was a stroke of genius and an added attraction that was like putting a big bright cherry on a ice cream sundae. She is definitely a talent deserving wider recognition and we should thank Joe, who taught her at The New School in New York, for giving her the opportunity to display her talents to the world. What a wonderful addition to the festivities.

Joe’s original “Tu-Way-Pock-E-Way,” which has been recorded previously in a small group setting, is also an outstanding, strong swinging cut, that blossoms in a big band configuration and allows the tune, which is the only one that was not arranged by Chambers, to take on totally different colors and flavors that can only be described as being in a nice fluffy lovely soft pocket. The fourth movement of The Moving Pictures is called “Clave de Bembe” in Part I and Part II, with the incomparable, one and only and the only one, top-notch percussionist Steve Berrios making sure that the date ends on an explosive, Latin groove. Berrios, a long time associate and friend of Chambers, supplied the righteous, tasteful beat that put the perfect ending on a splendid live memorable set that clearly and thoroughly showed that Joe Chambers is composing, performing and moving his picture straight ahead!

1 Comment

  • Dec 06, 2012 at 04:52PM chawmpee

    Thanks for your insightful review of one of our greatest living American artists, Joe Chambers.

    However, you start off the review by stating a dangerous stereotype: that "...the album is proof that drummers can write just as well as anybody else. In fact, he is one of the few drummers, to be able to say that. "

    Chambers is indeed a pioneer and innovator in the realm of composer-drummers, but he is now one of many composer-drummers. Saying that there are only "a few" of them only serves to perpetuate the same tired old irrelevant stereotypes about drummers. To name just a few other composer-drummers: Andrew Cyrille, Paul Motian, Pete La Roca, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Brian Blade, Tyshawn Sorey, Gerald Cleaver, Dan Weiss and Eric Harland.

    Chambers himself disputes commonly held stereotypes about drummers in the latest issue of JazzTimes (Nov. 2012), while Sorey provided insightful comments about composer-drummers in this previous 2011 JazzTimes feature:

    http://jazztimes.com/articles/28855-tyshawn-sorey-takes-the-before-after-challenge

    Thanks again for your review of the latest Chambers disc. Keep giving the drummer some!

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Larry Reni Thomas