Written by Alfred Turner from National Public Radio
For Dave Samuels, the love of his first two instruments — the drums and then the piano — naturally led him to the vibraphone. Samuels’ gift for evocative melody and his rhythmic versatility make him one of the leading mallet players of his generation, empowering him to swing from the classic-cool sounds of Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan to the contemporary rhythms of The Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra and his Caribbean Jazz Project.
Samuels’ rhythmic and melodic skills are on full display in this installment of Piano Jazz. He and pianist Alain Mallet solidly swing an up-tempo version of “All the Things You Are,” as well as the Samuels/Paquito D’Rivera-penned tribute to brilliant Brazilian composer and performer Antonio Carlos Jobim, “One for Tom.” And the duo brings a sophisticated lyrical touch to Samuels’ song “New Beginnings.”
In Mallet’s “Valse Triste,” they weave complex, changing dance rhythms of the waltz-like Venezuelan joropo with a pensive melody, creating a feeling of fond memories recalled, perhaps with a touch of melancholy. Samuels tells host Marian McPartland that the variable rhythms of the song “let you play it as you feel.”
The duo offers a number of Samuels’ songs, too, one with the evocative title “Picture Frame.” Samuels says the title just seemed to fit, and that it helps him “visualize” the tune. The image that he and Mallet create is beautiful and wistful, as the vibes shimmer above the subtle, insistent piano. As the last notes fade, McPartland says, “We are painters when we play.”
McPartland and Samuels’ free-jazz piece — music created totally in the moment — serve as a high point of a great session. Afterward, Samuels says, “It [was] like talking to someone you just met, and you listen intently and respond intently.”
“Or speaking in tongues,” McParland offers.
Samuels responds with a laugh, “Yeah! That’s even better!”
Originally broadcast Aug. 21, 2009.