Randy Crawford and Joe Sample – Live With Steve Gadd (2012)

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Sometimes an artist’s lack of success in America remains a puzzle. No better example exists than Randy Crawford, the rare R&B vocalist who can handle jazz with equal aplomb.

Crawford’s best-known U.S. hit, 1979’s “Street Life,” resulted from a collaboration with the Jazz Crusaders, who boasted jazz pianist Joe Sample among its distinguished members. Since then, Crawford has experienced much more acclaim in Europe, where she scored briskly-selling singles such as her covers of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Sample moved on to a successful solo career, but some of his best compositions were inspired by his soulful muse. Their long history — and clear affection for each other — is on full display in Live, an audio chronicle of their 2008 European tour. Along with veteran drummer Steve Gadd and Sample’s bassist son, Nicklas, Sample and Crawford treat the audience to a look back at their impressive catalog.

The quartet launch the concert with “Every Day I Have the Blues,” which Crawford confidently sings over Sample’s strut piano. They give “Feeling Good” a tempo makeover, increasing the rhythm but not overlooking the lyrics’ poignancy. She seems to particularly enjoy singing this track, and specifically commends Gadd’s drum work: “You put it right in the pocket!” she exclaims at the song’s end. Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” serves as Crawford’s tribute to her blues and soul roots, Crawford’s voice lingering delicately over the words “this bitter earth, what fruit it bears. What good is love, that no one shares” — while Sample plays his subtly delicious piano fills.

While the group plays a healthy dose of jazz standards, Crawford and Sample also perform some of their most popular collaborations. “One Day I’ll Fly Away” benefits from a slightly faster tempo, but her vocals sound just as lovely as they did upon the song’s 1980 release. The two also revisit “Last Night at Danceland,” a clever track that combines Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers references with the waning days of disco. Crawford clearly has fun singing innuendo-filled lines like “I got high last night at Danceland,” but Sample’s jazz-infused piano recalls Cole Porter-era tracks.

Of course the quartet performs the hit “Street Life,” which still is the rare disco/jazz combination that works. This live version downplays the song’s disco roots and emphasizes its jazzy chord changes and shuffling rhythm pattern. Despite presumably singing this track countless times, Crawford approaches the song in as fresh a manner as in the original recording, and vocally dramatizes the cautionary lyrics: “There’s always love for sale, a grown up fairy tale. Prince charming always smiles, behind a silver spoon.” Few other tracks summarized the glamorous era’s downside better than “Street Life,” which has granted the track longevity.

Sample and Crawford play other songs that have appeared on their previous collaborations No Regrets (2008) and Feeling Good (2006), such as Billie Holiday’s “Tell Me More and More and Then Some,” “Me, Myself and I,” and “No Regrets,” all benefiting from the energy and spontaneity of a live performance. The only misstep is “Almaz,” a Crawford-penned track from her 1993 album Don’t Say It’s Over. She oversings this tune, apparently wishing to demonstrate her vocal range on virtually every word. This is an anomaly, as Crawford is generally a minimalist singer who uses her range more judiciously.

Live is a delightful addition to Sample and Crawford’s longtime creative partnership, and it’s a treat to hear the two spur each other on to greater artistic heights. Gadd and Nicklas Sample function as the quartet’s backbone, lending the sound a certain tightness. Jazz and R&B enthusiasts alike should hear Live and understand why Crawford remains one of the best-kept secrets in modern music.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Kit O'Toole
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