Personnel: Joe Sample (piano); Randy Crawford (vocals).
Audio Mixer: Paul Mitchell.
Photographer: Naoju Nakamura.
Randy Crawford's and Joe Sample's musical paths have been intertwined for 36 years; they began with his keyboard work on her debut album Everything Must Change in 1976. She returned the favor a couple of years later with her vocal on the Crusaders' 1978 smash "Street Life." The pair have worked together intermittently since then, but only formally recorded as a dual entity on 2007's Feeling Good, a collection of (mostly) jazz tunes and standards. They followed it with No Regrets in 2008, a collection of blues, soul, and pop tunes. Both albums were highly regarded critically. Sample's piano was aided by drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Christian McBride. Live was recorded on various European stages between October and December of 2008, immediately prior to and just after the release of No Regrets. Gadd is present here, but it is Sample's son Nicklas in the upright bass chair. The impeccably recorded program is drawn from both albums and then some. Beginning with an in-the-pocket read of "Everyday I Have the Blues," and continuing with standards from the jazz, blues, and soul books, the set is well-sequenced and feels very much like a seamless live date. There's an excellent, jazzed-up reading of "Street Life" surprisingly enough, and a shimmering take on Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia" (that features Sample quoting from the Crusaders' "Hard Times" in his vamps and fills. There's also moving a version of Clyde Otis' "This Bitter Earth" (first recorded by Dinah Washington in 1960). The tunes that reflect the depth of Crawford's and Sample's musical relationship best, however, are in her "Almaz," and Sample's "One Day I'll Fly Away." On the former, Crawford's vocal is haunting, spare, intimate; it is underscored by Sample's elegant playing with its restrained harmonics and Spanish tinge. The latter tune was more risky. Given that the song was a hit for Crawford and is her best-known tune, the bubbling bassline and lush strings are parts of its signature. Stripping all that back for this piano-trio setting meant letting the tune's simple melody be the sole anchor for its smoldering emotion. Crawford deliberately understates it. Sample responds by filling the spaces with poetic economy and a new version emerges that is every bit as resonant. While Live is a further inscription in the collaborative book authored by Crawford and Sample, it is more, too: a classy, soulful example of inspired musicmaking. ~ Thom Jurek
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