Caribbean Jazz Project has undergone several changes of personnel since its inception less than a decade again. But the constant in the midst of all of the transformations of the group has been vibraphonist Dave Samuels, whose instrument remains at the center of the sound of the group. Substituting Ray Vega on trumpet for saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and pianist Dario Eskenazi for steel pans player Andy Narell, Samuels has evolved the music of the CJP while still rooting it in the synthesis of Latin musical forms with European harmonies.
For Birds of a Feather,
Samuels has arranged the tunes, many of which are his own compositions, to make effective use of the instrumentation, particularly Vega’s lead on some of the tunes like "On the Road." Typically, the Caribbean Jazz Project’s music is understated, without the fire of upper-register brass or the frenzy of mambo. Rather, its dynamic range remains within the confines of that expressed by the vibes or the marimba, while the other instruments color the spectrum with muted details, like Romero Lubambo’s repeated circular lines behind the vibes on the lead-in to the samba, "Turnabout."
In addition to Lubambo--a Brazilian guitarist widely recognized for his talent by the likes of Dianne Reeves or Kenny Barron--3 of the tracks on Birds of a Feather
include other guest musicians: Randy Brecker on trumpet, Mark Walker (an original CJP member) on drums and Café on percussion. Samuels’s composition, "Picture Frame," with the chord changes modeled on "Sous le ciel de Paris," unfolds as a leisurely bossa nova that allows for his expansion of the harmonic possibilities on vibes. Brecker remains entirely within the spirit of the music, playing with clear, round tones that develop the character of the tune itself instead of calling attention to the musician.
And Vega’s work is just as modest and insightful, particularly on "Against the Law," which involves twisting off-the-beat harmonic lines that are exchanges with Samuels and Eskenazi before leading into the main rhumba theme. The tune, written by Dafnis Prieto, obviously is a drummer’s delight, as it’s built upon percussive themes, some counteracting the other, until they’re woven into an entire fabric. And special mention should be made of Prieto’s work on the CD, which is evident from the initial beats of the first track, the crispness of his roll being the first characteristic of the CJP that strikes the listener. Robert Quintero’s integration of his percussive instruments with Prieto’s precise ability to nail the rhythms required by the tunes incorporates additional voicings and naturalistic sounds that contribute integrally to the "personalities" of the music.
In addition to the original numbers performed on Birds of a Feather,
Samuels includes two compositions for the jazz canon. Herbie Hancock’s "Tell Me a Bedtime Story" develops as a cha-cha, as each of the phrases comprising the tune receives its own emphasis through elongation of the phrasing and then an anticipation of the beat for the final 4 bars. And then there’s Charles Mingus’s "Weird Nightmare," to which Samuels applies a 7/4 meter, so integrated into the flow of the piece that it’s subtraction of the final beat becomes unnoticeable. Birds of a Feather
carries on the now decade-old Caribbean Jazz Project tradition, inviting audiences to enjoy the coolness of a bossa nova or the jump-start of a rhumba during relaxation or during active listening.