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Caribbean Jazz Project/Afro Bop Alliance: Caribbean Jazz Project: Afro Bop Alliance

n the immortal words (almost) of the Red Queen, the Caribbean Jazz Project means what Dave Samuels wants it to mean. What began 15 years ago as an innovative vibes, sax and steel drum lineup evolved into an equally intriguing vibes, guitar and flute combo and continued with a revolving (sometimes recurring) cast of characters.

So it’s not surprising that Samuels would resurface in yet another constellation, this time with the Maryland-based Afro Bop Alliance, bulked up here to a big band. The 19 players (including Samuels’ always engaging vibes/marimba and one CJP holdover, percussionist Roberto Quintero) are nimble, energetic and, as either name suggests, quite adept at both Latin music and jazz. But with the exception of “Afro Green” and “Soul Sauce” (which takes a fun and funky turn midway through), the rest of these Samuels originals and already familiar standards have all appeared on previous CJP releases, and all but one, more than once. Intriguing for would-be arrangers, perhaps, but small comfort to the fan who would now own three versions of “Stolen Moments” instead of something new from the group.

And while Samuels’ driving “Afro bop”-flavored “Rendezvous” benefits from the propulsion of the large ensemble and it’s a tossup between past and present renditions of “Bemsha Swing,” no piece here is fundamentally re-imagined and several suffer for comparison with earlier versions. At a time when Latin music is absolutely boiling with creativity and forward thinking, this set largely looks back. Like the classic car on the cover, the history and lines are admirable, even fun, but will only take you so far.

Originally Published