The liner notes for Urban Grooves describe Joe Chambers as "a good jazz drummer." Actually, he's more than good; he's an excellent jazz drummer who also knows his way around the vibraphone and the marimba. Not every album that Chambers has appeared on is great, but his skills as a musician certainly are. One thing Chambers isn't, however, is a terribly forceful drummer; he knows when to hold back. Chambers doesn't have quite as gentle a touch as Shelly Manne, but he isn't as aggressive as Art Blakey or Art Taylor either. Recorded in March 2002 -- when Chambers was three months away from his 60th birthday -- Urban Grooves underscores his intuitive, insightful nature. This acoustic-oriented post-bop date finds Chambers leading an all-star quintet that boasts Gary Bartz on alto and soprano sax, Eric Reed on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Bobby Sanabria on percussion -- and Chambers, true to form, knows exactly what to play when one of his colleagues takes a solo. When Bartz or Reed is stretching out, Chambers is never the least bit intrusive -- he's always sympathetic, encouraging, and helpful rather than heavy-handed. In fact, Urban Grooves is the opposite of heavy-handed; the performances tend to be on the introspective side whether the group is embracing "Sid's Ahead" (one of Miles Davis' lesser-known compositions), Marcus Miller's "Portia," or Chambers' own material. The CD's least introspective track is "Afreeka," an exuberant Chambers piece that incorporates Caribbean, African, and Latin elements. But most of the time, a reflective mood defines Urban Grooves, which falls short of exceptional but is a pleasing, solid demonstration of Chambers' skills as both a drummer and a vibist/marimba player.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson