Joe Chambers (302481)
Credit: Photo courtesy of the artist

Since 1993 pianist, singer, actress Marjorie Eliot has conducted her “Parlor Jazz” series every Sunday in her apartment at 555 Edgecombe Avenue, Harlem’s prestigious address once home to such musicians as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Johnny Hodges, Andy Kirk and singer, actor, activist Paul Robeson.

The live music from her apartment ignites a rhythmic flow throughout the building intoxicating anyone within listening distance regardless of rain, sleet, snow or blistering sunshine. “It took a minute to figure it all out once the pandemic was announced and sheltering in place made it very difficult,” said Eliot during a recent phone interview. “But we decided to adjust like the jazz clubs and start doing live streams.” The live streams have been working out relatively well, since Eliot’s audience was overflowing with tourists from Australia to Japan.

The band features pianist Rudel Drears, saxophonist Sedric Choukroun, trumpeter Nicholas Mauro, drummer Will Glass (Jazz Foundation of America) and special guest poet Arthur French (his career as an actor and director spans over 50 years, best known for his work in theater. He worked extensively with the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) and has played a variety of roles in such films as Car Wash, Crooklyn, Round Midnight, 2 Days in New York and Red Hook Summer). Eliot as the host usually sits in with the band to offer a soul stirring gospel-tinged jazz tune or swinging solo piano.

Every Sunday tune into Parlor Entertainment Harlem jazz from 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. on Facebook or YouTube. Eliot continues the Harlem tradition of live jazz similar to the rent party days when Fats Waller, James P. Johnson or Jellyroll Morton were the house pianists swinging stride melodies.

The last time multi-instrumentalist and composer Joe Chambers recorded for Blue Note Records was in 1998. Now, 23 years later he returns to Blue Note sharing his creative brilliance on the recently released Samba de Maracatu. The album is a strong box of nine-tracks of original compositions, standards, and tunes by Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, and Horace Silver that features Chambers playing drums, vibraphone, and percussion. He is joined by keyboardist Brad Merritt and bassist Steve Haines. Special guests include vocalist Stephanie Jordan and MC Parrain on “New York State of Mind Rain,” an inventive sample of Nas’ 1994 hip hop staple “N.Y. State of Mind” and Chambers’ 1978 piece “Mind Rain.”

Throughout Samba de Maracatu, the vibraphone is Chambers melodic and improvisational voice that often converses with Merritt’s piano accompaniments and solos. While on “You and the Night and the Music,” a well-journeyed standard (by Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz), Chambers follow the pianist’s lead as he shows off his legendary drumming skills with his noted groove, his presence is never overstated.

“I was always interested in the rhythms of the mambo and rumba that referenced the syncretic music of Afro Brazilian music in the roots of Brazil, Africa and Cuba,” said Chambers. Maracatu is a contemporary popular Brazilian (batucada-samba) rhythm and musical form indigenous to the province of Bahia, Brazil. Maracatu is rooted in Candomble, an African Brazilian religion born of a people transplanted from regions in Africa who practiced Yoruba.

Chambers utilizes various rhythms and indigenous Brazilian percussion instruments on several pieces, including the title track, which references the syncretic Afro-Brazil rhythms. On the album’s title cut, Merritt’s piano takes a haunting lead as the drums segway into a conversation with Chamber’s improvisational vibraphone with fluent flowing drum beats. “Max Roach and Art Blakely freed up the rhythm,” says Chambers. “I just want to add to what they have already contributed,” during a phone interview from his home in North Carolina. Personally, for me the composition ends too soon.

“Never Let Me Go” remains a beautiful classic through the vocal interpretation by Stephanie Jordan, you can hear traces of Nancy Wilson and Gloria Lynne. On Horace Silver’s “Ecaroh,” Chambers’ vibraphone starts on a mellow solo note before diving into a hip jaunting swing before passing it on to Merritt’s lush piano solo followed with Chambers’ trading notes. “Horace is one of my favorites, he is one of the great composers of the post-bop era,” said Chambers.

On Chambers’ updated hip hop oriented sampled version of “Mind Rain” co-written with his son Fenton, featuring MC Parrain, as he hits on police killings and protests, “in the states where’s he’s a Black guy.” The rhythms relate to what’s happening today as Chambers’ vibes ride high on that rhythmic truth. The drums and vibraphone connection on “Sabah El Nur” (a morning greeting) is a nice swinging midtempo composition.

“I am satisfied with this album because it was made in the midst of the pandemic,” says Chambers. “We recorded everything here in North Carolina. We had to look hard for a studio which we finally found in what New Yorkers would call the woods. We also had an all-out search for local musicians, the pianist Brad is a doctor in Raleigh.” The album was originally scheduled for recording in New York but upon Chambers returning home, the virus officially became a global pandemic and he was forced to make new arrangements. During this pandemic that has lingered into 2021, Chambers offers us Samba de Maracatu music with a history that will give you a groove for the pandemic and beyond far beyond.