Joe Chambers, a drummer/composer associated with many of the late 60s classic Blue Note albums (especially those under Bobby Hutcherson's leadership), has not been heard from in a while. As if to rectify that, 1999 kicks off with TWO Chambers albums - one a reissue of a long-unavailable session originally on Muse, one brand spankin' new. Guess which one sounds edgier?
The Almoravid (named after a 11th century North African dynasty) comes from an interesting & under-appreciated period in jazz. Though not a fusion album (in the sense most would consider it), Chambers utilizes electric instruments - clearly, at this time, "hardcore" jazzers had yet to regard electronics as the Devil's Tool. In some ways, this album is a continuation of the work Chambers did in the 60s - thoughtful, intricate hard/post-bop, with plenty of rhythmic drive. But this album is unique for its "covert" African and world-music influences. (Chambers says the title is a homage, but a close listen reveals more.)
The wonderful thing about this album is the way the percussion is "out-front" with the "melody" instruments, and the way he, balances the "exotic" elements with powerful swing (and NO drum solos!!!). The melodies clearly sing - Shaw's trumpet is especially haunting on "Medina" - and tend to stay with you, making you want to hear them again soon. There's a bit of the influence of Miles' & Weather Report's music of this era - but Chambers has clearly absorbed it into the overall sound, rather than bandwagon-jumping. This album was way ahead of its time - it's great to have it available again. Anyone who values world-music/jazz fusions NEEDS to hear this!