Houston, Texas-born keyboardist Joe Sample (1939-2014) would have earned his place in the music history books alone for his work as a sideman with such artists as Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, and Minnie Riperton. But he also spent roughly thirty years as a founding member of soul-funk-jazz outfit The Jazz Crusaders (later, just The Crusaders) and enjoyed a solo career spanning two dozen albums in over 45 years. Now, Cherry Red's Robinsongs imprint has brought together three of those solo records - 1978's Rainbow Seeker, 1979's Carmel, and 1981's Voices in the Rain - on a new 2-CD set.
1978's Rainbow Seeker, Sample's first on the ABC label, could be considered his proper solo debut although he'd recorded his debut as a leader with The Joe Sample Trio's 1969 LP Try Us. The entirely self-composed Rainbow Seeker was an extension of his work with The Crusaders and was produced by Sample with his bandmates Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper. While saxophonist Felder didn't play on Rainbow Seeker, Hooper contributed drums and percussion. Fellow Crusader Robert "Pops" Popwell handled bass, and Sample (on a variety of keyboards including acoustic and electric piano) welcomed a host of special guests including percussionist Paulinho da Costa, saxophonist Ernie Watts, and guitarists Dean Parks, Ray Parker, Jr., and David T. Walker. The expansive fusion of Rainbow Seeker would have been familiar to any Crusaders fan with its Latin, funk, and orchestral sounds.
Its follow-up, Carmel, was inspired by the picturesque California town that Clint Eastwood and the late Doris Day both called home (Eastwood even was elected its mayor). Once again, the seven selections were composed by Sample and produced by the trio of Crusaders; Sample on acoustic and Fender Rhodes was joined by a small group on each track with no orchestrations this time around. Paulinho da Costa, Dean Parks, and Stix Hooper were among the returning sidemen while bassist Abe Laboriel also played on a number of cuts. Flute great (and Sample's longtime friend and fellow Texan) Hubert Laws offered the evocative solo on "Midnight and Mist." That was just one of the songs to conjure the languid atmosphere of Carmel-by-the-Sea. "Midnight and Mist" joined other such spellbinding tracks as "Sunrise" and "More Beautiful Each Day." Unfortunately, Carmel has been split across two discs on this set, which is a far from ideal way to enjoy the album as it was intended.
Sample wasn't able to immediately start work on a third solo set. The Crusaders had reached their commercial zenith with 1979's Street Life, a crossover hit on the Billboard R&B, Jazz, and Pop charts. Sample, Felder, and Hooper continued their association with vocalist Randy Crawford, heard on "Street Life," with her own album, Now We May Begin. (That album, incidentally, introduced Sample and Will Jennings' ballad "Some Day I'll Fly Away" which was memorably sung by Nicole Kidman in the 2001 film musical Moulin Rouge.)
By the time Sample returned with his next solo album, ABC Records had been acquired by the MCA label. 1981's Voices in the Rain reunited the core group on Carmel (Sample, Hooper, Laboriel, da Costa) while finding room for jazz legend Ray Brown on bass and prolific session man Jerry Hey on horns. For the third consecutive LP, the team of Sample, Felder, and Hooper oversaw the production. In a departure from his first two albums, Sample also had two vocal tracks adding to the LP's alluring atmosphere. Josie James (today a valued member of Burt Bacharach's touring ensemble) sang "Burning Up the Carnival," a funky Latin jam with lyrics by Will Jennings, and Flora Purim of Return to Forever fame lent her voice to Sample's own, haunting "Shadows." Strings enhanced the cinematic title track.
Robinsongs' three-for-one reissue adds a trio of bonus tracks: single versions of "Melodies of Love" from Rainbow Seeker and "Burning Up the Carnival" and "Dream of Dreams" from Voices in the Rain. Charles Waring provides liner notes and Oli Hemingway has remastered. Unfortunately, discographical annotation is missing from the booklet. This collection from the late, great Joe Sample is available now from Cherry Red and Robinsongs.
- Rainbow Seeker
- In All My Wildest Dreams
- There Are Many Stops Along the Way
- Melodies of Love
- Fly with Wings of Love
- As Long as It Lasts
- Islands in the Rain
- Together We'll Find a Way
- Cannery Row
- Rainy Day in Monterey
- Midnight and Mist
- More Beautiful Each Day
- Voices in the Rain
- Burning Up the Carnival
- Greener Grass
- Eye of the Hurricane
- Dream of Dreams
- Sonata in Solitude
- Melodies of Love (Single Version)
- Burning Up the Carnival (Single Version)
- Dream of Dreams (Single Version)
CD 1, Tracks 1-8 from Rainbow Seeker, ABC LP AA-1050, 1978
CD 1, Tracks 9-14 and CD 2, Track 1 from Carmel, ABC LP AA-1126, 1979
CD 2, Tracks 2-8 from Voices in the Rain, MCA LP 5172, 1981
CD 2, Track 9 from ABC single AB-12379, 1978
CD 2, Tracks 10-11 from MCA single 51103, 1981