Over the years, mallet percussionist Dave Samuels has wielded his vibes and marimba as a sideman in a variety of musical endeavors, from early stints with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and Frank Zappa to a long and commercially successful run as a member of smooth-jazz stalwarts Spyro Gyra. But Samuels has never been content merely to serve as a foil for others' concepts, so he's also started and led a series of his own bands, including Double Image, Gallery and the Skylight Trio.
The Caribbean Jazz Project, which Samuels started in 1993 with now-departed co-leaders Andy Narell on steel drums and Paquito D'Rivera on saxophone, has been the most high-profile of all his groups, earning a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Recording in 2003 and another Grammy nomination this year. The CJP's concept is to bring jazz forms and harmonies together with rhythms from throughout the black music diaspora, infusing the Afro-Cuban influences already familiar to jazz audiences with tastes of salsa, calypso, merengue, Brazilian music and more. With flutist Dave Valentin and trumpeter Ray Vega sharing the front line with Samuels, the band's Latin flavor has come more to the forefront in recent recordings, but its touring repertoire continues to deliver the diverse mix of enticing island rhythms and virtuoso jazz soloing that has become the Caribbean Jazz Project's trademark.