Friday, October 30, 2015

Dennis Chambers: Roots & Grooves

Ask any musician for a list of the greatest living drummers, and the name Dennis Chambers is sure to be near the top of the list. Innumerable recording and performing credits in the worlds of R&B, jazz, fusion, and rock crowd his résumé, with artists including Parliament/Funkadelic, Santana, Maceo Parker, John Scofield, The Brecker Brothers, John McLaughlin, Steely Dan, George Duke, Kenny Garrett, Stanley Clarke, Mike Stern, and others. Superlatives like “incredible”, “unbelievable”, and “amazing” are freely thrown around in reviews and music publications when talking about Chambers’ playing, and he is a rare artist whose astounding technique and speed are balanced by an unshakable groove and musical sensitivity that very few possess. The mere mention of his name in music circles elicits an attitude of reverence and deep respect, and like other percussionists who have existed in that rarefied air, the self-taught Baltimore native started young – first picking up the sticks at four and performing in local clubs by age six.

Chambers joined George Clinton’s funk juggernaut Parliament/Funkadelic in 1978, a hugely influential collective including saxophonist Maceo Parker that married R&B, rock, and soul with a bitingly satirical edge, political and social conscience, and elaborate themes of Afro-Futurism as pioneered by jazz iconoclast Sun Ra. Parliament/Funkadelic was Chambers' musical home for seven years, and he has maintained a musical connection to Parker, appearing on the saxophonist’s triumphant 2007 release Roots & Grooves featuring the WDR Big Band. He has recently returned to tour with Parker and will appear with him and his band during their four-night New Years engagement at the SFJAZZ Center.

The pioneering record label Sugar Hill made Chambers their “house drummer” in 1981, enlisting the then 22-year-old to perform on their first single, the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” – a seminal recording that introduced the American public to the hip-hop genre and is included in NPR's list of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century. Chambers and bassist Chip Shearin recorded the entire 15-minute track in one take.

From the mid-80s on, the drummer worked extensively with guitarist John Scofield, appearing on his acclaimed early albums Loud Jazz, Blue Matter, and Pick Hits: Live, and became one of the most recorded session musicians in New York, appearing on upwards of 200 records and releasing four albums under his own name. Since the 1990s, Chambers has been part of a pair of notable organ trios – The Free Spirits, a renowned modern jazz unit with guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Joey DeFrancesco, and Niacin, a powerful rock-meets-jazz project featuring bassist Billy Sheehan and organist John Novello.

Since 2005, he has been recording and touring with Santana.

These dates at SFJAZZ are a “coming home” for Dennis Chambers, who powers Maceo Parker’s band like a freight train, a master of groove.

Dennis Chambers performs with Maceo Parker in Miner Auditorium, 12/31-1/3. Tap here for more information.

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