Joe Sample is many things: a celebrated jazz artist, a supreme pianist and keyboardist, a skilled composer. But it’s his collaborative prowess that fascinates me. A good collaborator must strike a balance between standing too boldly, and singularly, in the limelight versus fading so far into the background as to become an afterthought. My favorite Joe Sample collaboration projects are The Song Lives On, with Lalah Hathaway, and Feeling Good, with Randy Crawford.
March 2009 marks the release of yet another collaboration, again with Randy Crawford, titled No Regrets. Here, Ms. Crawford’s full and soothing vocals are matched with the crisp and minimalist arrangements provided by Sample, Steve Gadd (drums), and Christian McBride (bass). Other tracks are rounded out by contributions credited to Anthony Wilson (guitar), Ray Parker Jr. (guitar), Gary Grant (trumpet), and Dan Higgins (tenor sax). The tracks themselves, produced by Joe Sample and Tommy LiPuma, sound carefully selected, if not to showcase the warmth of Crawford’s voice then at least to present a mellow, bittersweet, and pensive atmosphere. Openers “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “Today I Sing the Blues”, along with “This Bitter Earth”, exhibit successful execution. Likewise, album closer “Lead Me On” offers the deepest resonance and opportunity for Ms. Crawford’s vocal expertise to shine and dazzle.
Given the collection’s attention to song selection, remakes of The Staples Singers’s “Respect Yourself” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” are rather odd, meandering choices that lack the necessary energy to sustain the album’s momentum. However, Crawford-and-Sample definitely get nods for thinking slightly outside of the remake box. Plus, Joe Sample’s arrangements here illustrate the adage that “less” can indeed be “more” (caveat: as long as you know what you’re doing).