What the hell is it with so many of the long-time masters waxing so magnificently grandiloquent as time passes, their autumn years turning not ochrous but golden? I swear to God I've been hearing so much of that in recent releases that I'm terrified Charles Darwin will arise from the grave and point a hoary accusatory finger, abjuring that humans are supposed to wane in powers as age creeps upon them, not get ever more lustrous and daring! And we don't need ol' Chuck doin' dat: it'll only arose the fundies and they're already pain-in-the-ass enough as it is.
Nonetheless and against the more popular forms of specious 'logic', Joe Sample's Children of the Sun may very well be his zenith statement. I mean, the bop Jazz Crusaders and the righteously groovalicious Crusaders remain benchmarks, while his solo work was a porridge of the marvelous and mundane, but this latest and last (Joe passed in Sept. 2014, though the CD, enduring the long processes native to the music industry, bears no witness to the sad event) is the apex of his talents compositionally and in his playing dexterities.
The choice of the NDR Big Band was inspired 'cause the German ensemble is completely sympatico, with Steve Gadd (drums) and Nils Landgren (trombone) thown in for excellent measure: the aggregate's more than adept at handling this cross of trad jazz with modern jazz with strong classicalist leanings. Complex and multi-rhythmic, each cut is a study in brainy but hipswaying flow pursuing many levels. Then there are the multitudinous solos, that boppin' sax in Buttermilk Sky an early stand-out. Behind it, sections of NDR split off for contrastive and complementary counterpoint. Then the piano (Sample hisself) ambles in for a light and joyous passage with particularly Caribbean ties (the CD nominally centers on St. Croix and the Virgin Islands and the chain's simultaneous physical beauty and ugly political past capitalist/slaving history).
This is a disc that richly deserved in-depth liner notes by an esteemed critic but unfortunately did not get that. A Berklee course in Advanced Composition could be taught off this one lone release, its many sophistications, clevernesses, and inventions. Sample's first-movement soloing in Islands of the Mind is lustrous in a parade of techniques and intonations, followed by the band's upwellings and then spare ruminative sections. It would be no mistake to claim that Children marks a new chapter in Sample's ongoing evolution, a transformation into especially serious musicsmithing capturing elements even of Grofe (Rumfire especially), Copland, Ives, Gershwin, and others but extending them beyond those bygone structuralisms and into more neoclassical venues. Doubly sad, then, that lung cancer claimed him untimely (yes, even at the advanced age of 75), depriving us of what was sure to follow. Still…what a note to check out on! Would that we all could do the same.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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