January/February 2005

Joe Sample
Soul Shadows

Throughout his long keyboard career, both as a founding member of the Jazz Crusaders and as a solo artist, Joe Sample believed that "if you played the piano in a stride or ragtime or boogie-woogie manner, you wouldn't need a bass player, you didn't need a drummer." After all, he says, "That's how I started playing in the first place. I've been a solo pianist since I was six years old." So on his first recording all by himself, Soul Shadows (Verve), Sample plays stride, ragtime and boogie-woogie versions of the ultraclassics that no doubt populated his youthful ivory-tinkling: "Ain't Misbehavin'," "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," even "The Entertainer." Of course, he plays them now with a lot more experience, and he has a sharp ear for when and where to throw in the accents, spiky harmonies, rephrasings, runs and general mischief that make these styles so stimulating. But with the exception of two of his own Crusaders songs (the title track and "Spellbound"), we've heard many, many fine old-time versions of these songs from back when they weren't quite so familiar, and Sample's versions just can't make the same impact. Soul Shadows could have been a must-hear if Sample's repertoire had grown along with his technique.

Originally published in January/February 2005

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