"Here and Now Live in Concert" is the first Caribbean Jazz Project live album ever recorded and is a collection of songs from their last six CDs. The only exception is Mariella’s Dream, which was written by band member Oscar Stagnaro and Alain Mallet. While each of their previous CDs are outstanding and includes award winners, Samuels feels this live CD is a current snapshot of the workings of the group in concert.
"The thing that happens in the studio is you can get this kind of veneer/urethane coating on top of the music that sometimes can disguise the intent and intensity of the music. This live record is just the opposite of that," said Samuels. Later adding, "We had been playing together a lot. It was the first live record that we’ve done. Some of the players, actually the piano player, the bass player [and] the drummer, comprised the rhythm section of the original Caribbean Jazz Project, which started in 1993. I’ve known these guys for a long time and we’ve played a lot together . . . We’ve shared notes for many, many years."
During the twelve-year course of the Caribbean Jazz Project, the group has undergone a number of personnel changes. For instance, Paquito D’Rivera , Andy Narell, Steve Khan and Dave Valentin have all been past members of the Project. The interesting thing about the Caribbean Jazz Project is that the rotation of members fuel and propel the creative process, rather than hindering it. The point is proven by a Grammy in 2003 for "The Gathering" and a nomination in 2004 for "Birds of a Feather."
Samuels sees the change of members as a natural process in an ongoing continuum of musical growth. Sharing, "I realized that as the personnel started to change that really what was happening was that things were re-invigorated. There was a rebirth of sorts . . . What’s happened over time is that every time there is a personnel change, it allows the group to grow in yet another direction and that for me is positive which means there is a built in growth factor an extremely important one." Continuing, "The nature of a jazz ensemble is that it is in a constant state of change. It is supposed to be like that. It’s organic and alive."
The vibraphonist doesn’t see himself as the main attraction or headliner. Rather, he values the individual talents and contribution of the members as a key ingredient in the success and continuation of the band. "I like to have everybody share in the process of creating music so everybody can share in the creation of tunes. . . it’s not anyone person’s musical vision. . . . . . it’s a communal/cooperative venture," said Samuels.
Where does he seem himself in five years?
"It’s not about being the same over time. It’s really about embracing change and embracing the uncertainty of that kind of change it’s a jazz project. That element of change of improvisation of spontaneity is the foundation in which everything else grows. That’s a permanent fixture in this band. The change is there. It’s built in. It’s what it’s supposed to be. The music we play is always influenced by that element."
On a final note, Caribbean Jazz Project fans will be excited to learn that they have teamed up with vocalist Diane Schurr for an album that will be released in April 2005. Produced and predominately arranged by the phenomenal Oscar Castro-Neves, "Schuur Fire" is sure to create quit a stir in jazz circles. From James Taylor to Stevie Wonder, the album is a crowd-pleasing rearrangement of familiar tunes. Samuels arranged two of the songs, but "everything was overlaid with a Latin tinge to it."
Samuels was excited to partner with Schurr and admits that the whole recording process was filled with passionate unpredictability. Admitting, "It was a wild experience. I haven’t worked with a singer in years, so this was out of the ordinary for me. She’s an out of the ordinary singer. She has a very powerful voice, kind of like a lead trumpet player. She can also transform herself from being a singer to being an instrumentalist. Which means she can improvise, she can carry on a musical conversation - which is not usual for most singers . . . She’s a very powerful force. I think the combination of her voice and attitude and our playing makes for a lot of sparks flying. It’s great."
The Caribbean Jazz Project is definitely a group that continues to ebb and flow with the times. The music they create is a living and breathing tribute to the endless possibilities of a jazz combo willing to harness the momentum of change and "Here and Now Live in Concert" is a statement of their success. The April release of "Schuur Fire" seems just too far away.