By Daniel Garrett
Randy Crawford and Joe Sample
Produced by Tommy LiPuma and Joe Sample
PRA Records, 2007
Randy Crawford and Joe Sample’s Feeling Good is one of the most intelligent and tasteful, one of the loveliest, one of the most seductive recordings I have heard in a long, long time. In “Feeling Good,” a song Nina Simone recorded, and which I was surprised to learn was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse—Simone weaved mystery into the song, a mystery Crawford maintains—there is a connection between nature and joy. It features, here, Joe Sample on piano, playing beautifully—also dramatically, quickly; and the band on this album includes Christian McBride on bass, Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, Steve Gadd on drums, and Luis Quintero on percussion. Crawford ends the song—over a tumultuous interplay of instruments, joyously riotous—with wordless improvised singing. The end of a relationship is the subject of “End of the Line,” a Cynthia Medley-John Edmondson song in which the sunlight in Crawford’s voice does not dim—she simply adds summer thunder to it. “But Beautiful,” included here, is a Johnny Burke and James van Heusen standard, but it is far from one of my favorite songs, and it has the form of contemplation, of tally-taking, but I am not sure it is as thoughtful as it wants to seem. I like that Crawford’s unique voice allows her to be both inside and outside the song at the same time. The strongest songs on the album Feeling Good are “Rio de Janeiro Blue,” “Lovetown,” “See Line Woman, and “Tell Me More and More and Then Some.”
Randy Crawford’s recorded work includes Everything Must Change, Now We May Begin, Secret Combination, Abstract Emotions, Rich and Poor, Don’t Say It’s Over, Naked and True, and Through the Eyes of Love. Joe Sample’s work includes Fancy Dance, Rainbow Seeker, Carmel, Roles, Spellbound, Invitation, Old Places Old Faces, and The Pecan Tree. Crawford and Sample recorded together years ago. Sample is a co-writer with Will Jennings of “Street Life,” one of Crawford’s most famous songs, from about twenty-five or more years ago. The song “Street Life” was done with Sample’s group the Jazz Crusaders. Joe Sample said, “I knew that it would require a singer who was capable of rendering interpretations. I had grown to believe that Randy was capable of interpreting a song. I was right, and to my shock, ‘Street Life’ became an important piece of music” (in interview with the internet site of Black Entertainment Television, February 20, 2007). Happily, Crawford and Sample are reunited on Feeling Good.
There’s soulful sultry rhythm to “Rio de Janeiro Blue,” a John Haeny-Richard Torrance song, and Crawford’s voice is strong, inflected with knowledge, and the piano sounds like the touching of sparkling crystals. “In Lovetown, I can’t settle down, and do those teeth still match the wound,” sings Crawford in Peter Gabriel’s “Lovetown.” It is a song that offers something to think about: “Sometimes you’re stormy water, on which I pour my oil. In each other’s shadow, the roots reach into the soil. All these knots so tightly tied, we could not uncoil, in Lovetown” are some of the words to the song. I love metaphor!
The rolling piano notes, male chorus, and Randy Crawford’s forceful interpretation lay claim to George Bass’s “See Line Woman,” which Nina Simone was known for performing (and this version is at least as good as Simone’s, possibly better: and that is a great compliment). The “See Line woman, dressed in red,” and purring and winking, can make a man “lose his head,” as well as “empty his pockets and wreck his days.” In preparing the album, Randy Crawford and Joe Sample wanted to “go back into the annals of the great African-American female singers,” especially those loved by appreciators of jazz, Sample told JazzReview.com (February 2007). Randy Crawford is not as eccentric as Nina Simone or Billie Holiday, she is not a troubled iconoclast, but Crawford’s talent has no limit. “I want some more and then some of that ‘I love you only dear,’” are some of the greedy lines in a call for reassurance in love, the song “Tell Me More and More and Then Some,” which was written by Billie Holiday and performed by Nina Simone, and I understand the feeling of the song—from need, from ego: “And then when you done told me about a million times how much you love me, when you’re through, start right back in again”—and yet, as with other versions, something makes me laugh: it’s so honest! Nina Simone seems one of the guiding angels of the album, and with good reason: Simone, a singer of jazz, ballads, and international folk songs, was a woman of art and activism, of passion and protest, and could seem girlish and ancient, angry and calming, a woman who understood poverty and nobility, and was such a truth-teller she became a myth.
“What I hear in Randy are the same ingredients that exist in me…There’s a blend of the entire African-American musical experience that encompasses jazz, gospel, blues and soul that is a part of our natural voices,” pianist Joe Sample told a writer from Black Entertainment Television’s online division in February 2007. Joe Sample’s piano playing is able to portray charm, dynamism, tension. Of course, the songs on Feeling Good are not limited narrowly to African-American tradition in terms of origin: as African-American improvisational music, jazz, has been and is an expanding repertoire that takes and transforms works of different kinds, and from diverse places. I like Randy Crawford and Joe Sample’s interpretation of Fred Neil’s light rock music song “Everybody’s Talking,” and in singing a line from it, “I won’t let you leave my love behind,” Crawford gives the word “leave” a note an opera goddess—surely—would love to borrow. Sung by Leo Sayer decades ago, Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager’s “When I Need You” is given simple woman-to-man phrasing by Crawford but her voice still makes the song quite special. “You may have fun with the crowd, but for crying out loud, darling please save your love for me,” sings Crawford in Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love for Me.” In the Joe Sample and Will Jennings song “Last Night at Danceland,” the rituals of romance and good times continue though the feeling of love is gone, and Crawford allows a touch of hysteria to enter her voice, and when she repeats “got a little high” it is all easy to imagine. “Why did I write for Randy? Because she may be the only singer around who can really interpret my music. I have worked with a number of singers who have been absolute failures when it came to singing my songs. I always wonder, why are my songs so hard to sing? It is because my songs have a uniqueness to them, and that is really funny about my songs. They sound simple, they sound easy, but they are one of the biggest ass-kickers around…They are so simple that nobody can do it. Sometimes it seems that is easier to just play a continual flurry of notes than to hold one note and get a beautiful sound out of it,” Joe Sample told JazzReview.com (February, 2007). Joe Sample is right: Randy Crawford has immense control of her voice. I hardly can imagine a singer able to produce a more pure vocal line. “All Night Long,” written by Curtis Lewis, and sung by Aretha Franklin in her early days, is about a man who haunts a woman’s dreams, though she does not know him well: on Feeling Good, it is bluesy, passionate. The appeal of a guitar-player that is more musical than physical is the subject of Norman Mapp’s “Mr. Ugly.” Randy Crawford and Joe Sample’s Feeling Good is a collection of songs for this year and for every year to come.
Daniel Garrett, a New York resident, is a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the founder of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House; and his work has appeared in The African, AIM/America’s Intercultural Magazine, AltRap.com, American Book Review, Black American Literature Forum, Changing Men, Cinetext.Philo, The City Sun, Film International, Frictionmagazine.com, The Humanist, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Illuminations, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, NatCreole.com, Offscreen.com, Option, The Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, The St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter, 24FramesPerSecond.com, UnlikelyStories.org, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today. Author contact: email@example.com