Caribbean Jazz Project | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Caribbean Jazz Project

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The Caribbean Jazz Project started in 1993 as a studio band of Latin-jazz heavyweights: expat Cuban reedist Paquito D'Rivera; steel-pan drum virtuoso Andy Narell, who commands even more respect in the island nations where the instrument originated than he does here; and vibist-marimbist Dave Samuels, best known for his work in Spyro Gyra, a workmanlike fusion band that earned some jazz cred when he showed up. Samuels seems like the odd man out: he was raised on the North Shore and broke in with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan in the early 70s, which isn't exactly the pedigree you'd expect of a Latin-jazz expert. But Samuels is the one who's steered the CJP through its various personnel changes, and in recent years he's transformed it from an all-star recording unit to a serious, and seriously good, working band. The new two-disc live album Here and Now (Concord Picante) features 14 expansive performances that reveal a sinewy connection among the members of the sextet, which includes scintillating young Argentine trumpeter Diego Urcola and onetime Chicago-based drummer Mark Walker. (The band is touring as a quintet this time, without Urcola.) Samuels doesn't get his due in part, I think, because he's stuck between generations, neither an elder statesman like Gary Burton nor a younger notable such as Jay Hoggard or Stefon Harris. But he's a powerful and emotive player, agile and clever on the originals and standards to which he imparts a Spanish tinge, and also adept at crafting shrouded textures and surprisingly introspective statements. Thu 11/10, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $25.

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