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Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Mirrors

Posted By on Wed, Jul 7, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Drummer Joe Chambers made a name for himself during the ’60s by laying down the rhythmic landscape for such jazz musicians as Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson. As a mainstay on the jazz scene, Chambers has only put out two albums under his own name. This small output doesn’t adequately capture the breadth of his talent or diminish his stellar musicianship. In fact, he has crafted a style of playing that’s minimalistic and unlike the other drummers of his generation. He caresses the drums instead of attacking them. His unique approach shines brilliantly on this new album.

Mirrors opens with "Tu-Way-Pock-E-Way," which is named after a group of African-Americans who play in the big New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. It has the feel of a traditional New Orleans funeral march when it starts out melancholic, but by the end the tempo has changed and the tune has a more joyous quality. Saxophonist Vincent Herring and pianist Mulgrew Miller make this number hit home with their solos. They flow and floor, and Chambers is right behind them providing a frame for their beautiful playing.

Chambers turns the title tune, "Mirrors," from a ballad to a midswing number. Here, trumpeter Eddie Henderson shows why he’s an expert lyricist as he blows with tonal clarity and precision. The chemistry throughout is tight and the musicians don’t waste time trying to outblow each other. Chambers adds two pop tunes to the album – "Lady in My Life" and "Come Back to Me" – on which he moves from drums to vibes and we get to hear his musical alter-ego: On the drums, his licks are soft like a tap dancer, but on the vibes he plays with color and alacrity.

Mirrors embodies the essential pieces that make an engaging jazz record. The improvisation is intelligible, the solos slamming and Chambers doesn’t overplay his sidemen. It works because he’s an unselfish leader who prefers to function behind the scenes.

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