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Joe Sample: The Pecan Tree

The Pecan Tree, veteran keyboardist Joe Sample’s first Verve release, honors and celebrates the indigenous music of his East Texas homeland. Naturally, then, expectations are of a recording dripping of bodacious BBQ sauce, tantalizing salsa and killer gumbo. But Sample, who typically intertwines ragtime, blues, Latin, gospel and bebop into his evocative contemporary compositions, forgot about that good ol’ hometown cooking. Sample’s heart is in the right place, but his memories must have been influenced by bland franchise food.

The CD features synth player Peter Wolf, guitarist Dean Parks, bassist Jay Anderson, drummers Larry Aberman and James Gadson and percussionists Lenny Castro and Paulinho da Costa, but despite all that talent The Pecan Tree has a generic, toned-down quality. Vocalist Lizz Wright, a new addition to Verve, and R&B crooner Howard Hewett are also incorporated into the recording. “Fool’s Gold,” embellished by Wright’s brawny singing and Sample’s Fender Rhodes treatment, has a vintage Michael Franks aura; it’s a cinch for smooth-jazz radio.

Anyone who’s ever seen Sample in concert will concur that he burns with the best of them. That breathtaking skill doesn’t convey on The Pecan Tree except for on “The Texas Two Step,” where he cuts loose and displays his trademark nimbleness, and on “X Marks the Spot,” a nonoriginal by Marie Laveau, a sassy shuffle, buoyantly accentuated by Castro and Aberman. Too bad the rest of The Pecan Tree doesn’t cook as much as those two tracks.

Originally Published