Randy Crawford and Joe Sample: Live (2012)
It's a slight exaggeration to say that keyboardist Joe Sample rescued Randy Crawford from pop music limbo, but it's not too far from the truth. Crawford is among the most distinct vocalists working, but her discography is riddled with over-arranged and over-produced disappointments. One of her finest moments remains when The Crusaders dropped all 11 minutes of "Street Life" on radio airwaves in 1979, featuring Crawford belting it out.
Some 27 years would pass Sample and Crawford before they reunited to record Feelin' Good (PRA, 2006), where the pianist wisely chucked the synthesizers, strings and overproduced pop tunes that Crawford's sensual vocals had to fight through over a decade's worth of middling albums and stripped the sound down to a bare (but not sparse) combination of piano, bass, drums and Crawford's sensually sweet vocals.
The back-to-basics/less-is-more approach served Crawford well on Feelin' Good, and a second album, No Regrets (PRA, 2008) continued the collaboration. It was wise for Crawford to give up her pop/R&B stylings to pursue a more distinctive direction as a seriously soulful jazz singer, and Live pulls together some of the finest moments from a 2008 European tour. Steve Gadd handled the drumming duties on the two studio albums and returns here, as Nicklas Sample replaces Christian McBride on acoustic bass.
Live albums of a concert you didn't attend are a bit like looking at a friend's vacation photos of somewhere you haven't been, but everything that sounded good in the studio loses nothing on stage. From the opener "Every Day I Have the Blues" to the closer "Last Night at Danceland," Crawford and company deliver the goods over an economical 49 minutes. There isn't a dull moment on Live, but Crawford does herself proud on the Billie Holiday-written "Tell Me More and More and Then Some," with Sample killing 'em softly as he solos. "This Bitter Earth," "Me, Myself and I" and "No Regrets" are presented soulfully, playfully and brilliantly, with Gadd and Nicklas Sample providing solid support throughout.
Sample and Crawford have recently finished a tour in South Africa, but whether they plan to record again remains to be seen. If they don't, then Live serves as an outstanding document of a glorious alliance.
Track Listing: Every Day I Have the Blues; Feeling Good; Tell Me More and More and Then Some; Rainy Night in Georgia; This Bitter Earth; Me, Myself and I; No Regrets; One Day I'll Fly Away: Almaz; Street Life; Last Night at Danceland
Personnel: Randy Crawford; vocals; Joe Sample: piano; Steve Gadd: drums; Nicklas Sample: bass