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Joe Chambers: Horace to Max

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Given Joe Chambers’ star-studded, five-decade résumé as the drummer on dozens of classic recordings, it’s a bit startling to realize he’s made only a handful of discs as a leader. Horace to Max is a welcome addition to the canon, a double tribute to Horace Silver and Chambers’ mentor, the iconic Max Roach. Moving along at a brisk pace, the disc incorporates a diverse set of material, from swinging hard bop to Afro-Latin percussion jams. Chambers’ drumming drives the proceedings, but his touch is light enough to avoid overwhelming them; the music burns hot, but without causing collateral damage.

As on his last CD, 2006’s The Outlaw, Chambers presents himself as a multi-instrumentalist, putting nearly as much emphasis on his lightly scurrying vibraphone and marimba as on his drums. He overdubs on most of the nine tracks before giving the mallets free rein on the immensely pleasing jaunt “Afreeka.” Another reprise from The Outlaw is the presence of singer Nicole Guiland on two tracks: Her take on Roach’s pointed political critique “Mendacity” is right on target, with a sardonic, dismissive sneer that seems particularly apt amidst today’s bloody-knuckle fights in Washington.

Elsewhere, Chambers and his ace band keep things lively and mostly upbeat. Saxophonist Eric Alexander swings hard, managing to sound nonchalant even as his lines weave intricately through odd meters. Xavier Davis coils, rolls and struts on piano, while bassist Dwayne Burno and percussionist Steve Berrios give the music a cushion of feel-good rhythm that makes Horace to Max a joy.

Originally Published