When it comes to jazz, the legendary Blue Note label has long represented the pinnacle of musical form, releasing albums by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and many other jazz icons.
Earlier this year, Wilmington-based composer and percussionist Joe Chambers – who has performed and recorded with Davis, Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea and many others over a career spanning nearly 60 years – released his own album for the world – renowned Blue Note label.
“Samba de Maracatu” was recorded last year in the Wilmington area with jazz musicians from North Carolina, possibly becoming Port City’s first product with a direct Blue Note connection.
The album, which Chambers produced and plays on, features both originals (“Circles”, the title track) and performances arranged by Chambers of existing jazz compositions by Horace Silver (“Ecaroh”), Bobby Hutcherson (“Visions”) and others. “Samba de Maracatu” effortlessly blends traditional jazz styles with a mix of Cuban, African and particularly Brazilian rhythms that Chambers explores on drums, vibraphone and other instruments.
The album’s title track has nearly 100,000 views on YouTube.
For Chambers, 79 – he moved from New York to Wilmington in 2008 to become Thomas S. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Jazz in the Music Department at UNCW, a position he retired from in 2013 – a return to Blue Note is sort of a circle moment.
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When he moved to New York City in 1963, “I was immersed, almost immediately, in the Blue Note business,” Chambers said in a telephone interview. “This is something that just happened. I was pretty busy recording with people in the ’60s,” including progressive and respected jazz artists like Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson.
He was so busy, in fact, that when Blue Note asked him to record an album as a bandleader in the late 1960s, he turned the label down.
“No business sense at all,” Chambers said with a chuckle. “I always say I was spaced out, which I was, spaced out. But I was really busy recording, playing, and touring with bands and things, and I said I wasn’t ready to do it. make.”
Not that the decision would prove to be life-threatening to his career, exactly, as Chambers would continue to perform and record with the best of the best in jazz, including a stint with Max Roach’s groundbreaking percussion ensemble, M ‘Boom.
He also recorded solo albums for other labels, including Blue Note in 1998, making his solo debut for the label with “Mirrors”.
Still, Chambers said, his history with Blue Note played a big part in his drive to make a comeback more than 50 years after first performing with the label, which is now part of the Universal Music Group conglomerate and features performances. artists such as Norah Jones. .
“It means a lot” to be back, he said.
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In 2019, after UDiscoverMusic published an article about Chambers’ work with Blue Note, producer Don Was, who runs the label, caught wind of the story and gave Chambers the green light for a new album. .
The original plan was to record in New York with New York musicians, and Chambers traveled to the city in February 2020 to rehearse for studio dates in March of that year.
“Then the pandemic struck,” Chambers said. “I got out, really, just in time. I left town just before the pandemic took hold.”
“I was definitely not going to go back to New York,” he added. “So I told them I was going to do it here in North Carolina.”
Chambers enlisted bassist Steve Haines, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro whom Chambers first met in New York City, and longtime Wilmington pianist (and practicing dermatologist) Brad Merritt, whom Chambers calls “one hell of a gamer”.
“Samba de Maracatu” was recorded by JK Loftin of Wilmington at Mike’s Music Studios in Rocky Point and Cape Fear Studio in Wilmington.
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What is striking about the album is its effortless complexity, with Chambers leading the action with his drums and laying shimmering melodies on the vibraphone.
“I’m still a percussionist,” Chambers said. “But people forget, the vibraphone is a percussion. Vibraphone and marimba.”
He doesn’t exactly do fusion, but he fuses different elements of music throughout his career. In that sense, it’s a big album. Chambers’ arrangement of the jazz standards “You and the Night and the Music” and “Never Let Me Go” – the latter made famous by Nat King Cole, and here features the singer’s voice from New Orleans Stephanie Jordan – is a nod to mid-twentieth-century jazz forms. The hip-hop “New York State of Mind Rain” (which mixes Nas’ 1994 hip-hop hit “NY State of Mind” with “Mind Rain” by Chambers “) may be looking to the future.
Other pieces are rhythmic explorations of the type Chambers said he was fascinated by “since I was little. The thing with the rhythmic aspect of what I do, I’ve always leaned towards syncretic rhythms” which mix the musical traditions of Cuba, Africa, Brazil and other countries. “It rocks harder than anything else.”
Chambers said he was worried about the future of jazz, in part because of the concentration of music in academic circles.
“Jazz has become like a museum piece in a sense,” he said. “Schools are good, sure, but you can’t really learn to play jazz in a school. And I taught in a school.”
There are, however, signs of life. The 2020 Pixar movie “Soul” was a popular film with a jazz-driven storyline, and Chambers said he sees promise in players like Wilmington saxophonist Benny Hill, who is “a great player. to be heard, ”Chambers said. “He could be in New York.
As for Chambers, he is eagerly awaiting some European dates he has planned for 2022. He has also long wanted to perform at Thalian Hall in Wilmington, a town Chambers has lived in for over a decade now.
“What kept me here?” Property taxes, ”Chambers said with a laugh. “It’s the housing situation. But it’s a really nice place to live.”
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or [email protected].