Tuesday 3 July 2012

Randy Crawford and Joe Sample 30 years on

Thirty years ago I bought a ticket to see the Crusaders featuring Randy Crawford at Newcastle City Hall. It was just after Street Life had been a massive hit and knowing little about jazz then, I was really there to see Ms Crawford. Imagine my disappointment when an announcement was made that she was too ill to sing and that we would "only" have the Crusaders.

The Crusaders were great, but I always felt I'd missed out somehow. Well that's now been put right as Randy Crawford and the Joe Sample Trio shared a platform last night at "Under the Bridge" a new venue (to me), underneath Chelsea Football Club's stadium. I have been a fan of Joe Sample's music for a very long time now and over the last few years he has again teamed up with Randy to record a couple of excellent albums - Feeling Good and No Regrets as well as more recently, a cracking live album.

Its always a bit of worry when you go to hear someone who had their greatest "hits" a long time ago. Will the voice be the same? Will she do some of the old songs as well as the current stuff? What if its a disappointment? Well, I had no reason to worry. The voice was fantastic - and I have to say sounded as fresh and clear as on the recording of Street Life! She did some old songs and some newer recordings (although all classics culled from her recent albums). And she was no disappointment.

The evening opened with a short set from maestro Joe Sample and his trio - the bass player of which is Sample's grown up son Nick. At 73 years old Joe is still full of energy, tells a good story to introduce the songs and treated us to X Marks The Spot and Memories, from his excellent album The Pecan Tree (which I realise much to my surprise is now 10 years old!). X Marks the Spot was dedicated to the former New Orleans high priestess of voodoo - Marie Laveau. Joe recounted stories from his childhood summers in New Orleans staying with female relatives who kept him in check with amongst other things, stories about Laveau. Continuing the theme, he moved us to Spellbound from his 2004 Soul Shadows album before Baby Ain't I Good To You which was his way of bringing Ms Crawford to the stage.

She was given a huge reception by the largely middle aged audience and the treats began straight away with her version of Nina Simone's Feeling Good. There followed a string of blues inflected numbers - This Bitter Earth, But Beautiful (always associated for me with Shirley Horn), End of the Line; Me, Myself and I made famous by Billie Holiday and Tell Me More and Then Some which was penned by Holiday. And you know what? That Randy Crawford can sing these numbers as if they were her own. And something else. When Randy Crawford sings, you can hear the lyrics. All of them. No slurring or stumbling and any ad-libbing comes during the breaks or at the end of the song. Understated but with devastating effect.

As you would expect the biggest cheers of the night were for the "hits" - One Day I'll Fly Away, Street Life and Last Night At Danceland (which I love and which is inexplicably underrated). Street Life was the song she chose to close the show but she wasn't going to be allowed to get away that easily and an extremely insistent crowd brought her back for a perfect version of Almaz and a sweet closer of Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe as a tribute to Mr. Sample.

A few more songs would have been very welcome. There was no Rainy Night In Georgia, That's How Heartaches are Made or her fantastic versions of Rio de Janeiro Blue and Cajun Moon. But, if she'd sang everything we wanted we would have been there all night.

Now aged 60, she sounded as good as ever. Physically very different to her sylph like younger days, much of the performance was given seated and she claimed to be extremely tired. She clearly enjoyed herself although the frequent bursts of laughter between songs remained unexplained and a couple of comments from the stage including "has anyone seen the key to my chastity belt" were a little strange.

Joe Sample is a real gentleman, regaling us with stories about being pressed to record "dance music" in the 1980's and his desire to have been an adult in the 1940's at the peak of Harlem's jazz era before changing his mind when he realised that many of those great names did not live to be 50!

So was it worth waiting 30 years for the two of them to perform together and to hear Randy Crawford sing live? Damn right it was. I hope not to wait so long for the next time.

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