Though the careers of jazz-soul vocalist Randy Crawford and pianist Joe Sample have been intersecting for over three decades, dating back to Crawford’s 1979 teaming with the Crusaders on “Street Life,” a brief but perfect storm occurred a while back, when Crawford, Sample, drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Christian McBride and producer Tommy LiPuma came together for two superlative albums, 2006’s Feeling Good and 2008’s bluesier No Regrets.
Those discs’ many fans will surely be excited by this live reunion, four years after that storm passed. Truth is, however, these 11 tracks are from the same fertile period, plucked from various dates along a nine-country European tour in late ’08. Gadd is onboard but McBride is absent, replaced by Sample’s son, Nicklas. LiPuma once observed that Sample’s “secret” as an accompanist is that he “listens to the singer and then reacts to what the singer is doing without ever getting in the way,” a statement that rings even truer here than on either of the studio albums.
Crawford is in exceptional form, obviously drawing extra verve and energy from extremely responsive crowds. Given the project’s cut-and-paste approach, the tracks sound remarkably cohesive. Understandably, the playlist draws heavily from Feeling Good and No Regrets, plus the de rigueur “Street Life,” “One Day I’ll Fly Away” and her lush reading of “Rainy Night in Georgia.” But the apex is Crawford’s intense treatment of her “Almaz,” an impassioned reminder of how easily she holds her own against Aretha Franklin.