The November 2015 issue of JazzTimes magazine featured a long-overdue interview with master-drummer Dennis Chambers. I’ll never forget first hearing his playing on the title track of John Scofield’s brilliant Blue Matter album as a highly-impressionable 15-year-old. I had never heard anyone play a kick drum like that. His grooves were tasty, funky and solid, but he was also a chops machine too, as the closing minute of ‘Trim‘ testified.
Blown away by his playing and the whole mid-’80s Scofield band, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting about ten feet away from Dennis when the quartet played at a very small venue near Docklands in early 1987 – an unforgettable experience. Talk about effortless power and finesse. I have followed his career closely since then and seen him live many times – I’m delighted he’s recovered from a very serious recent illness and is firing on all cylinders again.
Chambers easily transcends the label of ‘session drummer’ and very much deserves to be mentioned alongside all the jazz and fusion greats. He has mastered the key disciplines – grooving, listening and soloing. As Randy Brecker said in the JazzTimes profile, he has ‘a pocket with an R&B style and lots of chops. It’s the heavyweight division.’
As well as Randy and his brother Michael, Dennis has played with most of the biggies: George Clinton, Steely Dan, Sly Stone, Stanley Clarke, Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Mike Stern and Bireli Lagrene, and made his mark with all of them. Only Miles is missing from that list, but surely that would have happened in time.
To celebrate Dennis’s re-emergence, here are five of my favourites from his illustrious career:
5. Studio Drum Solo (2010)
The solo heard around the world.
4. Bireli Lagrene: ‘Daphne’ (1995)
A recent discovery, Chambers holds it all together beautifully with the perfect accompaniment of Anthony Jackson on bass.
3. John McLaughlin’s Heart Of Things Live (1998)
I’ve never seen him play so small a kit, but he uses it beautifully on the opener ‘The Divide’.
2. Mike Stern Band Live At Leverkusen (2015)
No one else could drive the band the way Dennis does on the opener ‘Out Of The Blue’. He’s definitely back-back-back.
1. Bob Berg: Company B (1988)
Some classic Dennis grooving.