RANDY CRAWFORD & JOE SAMPLE / “Randy & Joe Mixtape”
In physics there is a concept of sympathetic vibration—a thing is still, something else is vibrating and causes the still thing to vibrate. The resulting vibration is usually the same frequency or an octave above or below depending on the make-up of the formerly still/now vibrating body.
Randy Crawford’s voice vibrates. My flesh moves.
There is also a concept of sympathetic resonance which is similar to sympathetic vibration except resonance results in an increased intensity in the newly vibrating body.
Randy sings, my emotions resonate.
Her vibrato is particularly pronounced on long tones when she extends a note for more than a second. Most singers try to eliminate what is commonly called wobbling or warbling; they reach for a purity of tone, no shaking pitch whatsoever. Like one of them elderly New Orleans trumpeters, Randy artfully applies trembling to add a sheen to her tone.
Randy has superb control of her voice, especially the mature Randy Crawford. Her voice doesn’t wobble around drunkenly. She is precise dialing up or down her vibrato in micro-tones ranging from a full out bumping side to side, to a subtle tingle that caresses the ear.
Plus there is a keening edge to Veronica Crawford’s voice, fuller than nasal but always on the sharp side of the note. And a darkness too, deep as a Macon, Georgia midnight. She may have been reared in Cincinnati, Ohio but she was born in Macon in 1952 and thus has all the cotton-muted sound and fury of bloody, racially oppressive Southern gothic inhabiting the interior of her sound.
Because of how the media, and indeed society-at-large, has treated them, dark-skinned black women crossing through twentieth century America know that life is a dialectic, a constant synthesis of defiant beauty and debilitating pain, hard-won understanding wrung from the stark ugliness of social disdain. While lesser lights would cry and be extinguished, Randy laughs and illuminates the atmosphere with her inner glow.
But do not mistake her smile for shuffling, Randy’s visible good humor is no shit-eating grin but is instead truly the rainbow sign of a proudly triumphant survivor.
Even though she has weathered some seemingly endless midnights, her songs are radiant sunrises of touching beauty.
Randy made her first mark on the musical wall with a live version of “Everything Must Change” on her 1976 debut album, and then shortly thereafter in 1979 up-jumped to tag Joe Sample’s “Street Life” high above our heads—the song stayed atop the charts for almost half a year and also spawned disco remixes as well as inclusion in movie soundtracks and commercials.
Since then she has produced over fifteen albums and criss-crossed the world numerous times. Although she is not a commercial mega-star, her brightness attracts appreciative audiences wherever she tours.
Worthy of a romance novel, her career has returned to the source. Back in the seventies Joe Sample played on her debut album and she in turn sang on the Crusaders (of which Joe is a founding member) biggest hit, “Street Life.” Now they have paired to produce two albums, Feeling Good (2006) and No Regrets (2008), both are critically acclaimed.
Feeling Good is upful and romantic—music to share with a cuddle buddy. No Regrets is weightier and reflective—music to share with your own meditations. Depending on my mood, I vacillate on which I enjoy more.
On both albums Joe Sample’s contribution is exquisite. Joseph Leslie Sample, born 1939 in Houston, Texas, is an economical player, a master of minimalism playing both the notes and the silences with a cunning yet relaxed succinctness. Where others might drop a fist full of notes, Joe makes do with one or none thereby perfectly framing Randy’s rich voice.
On Feeling Good it’s only a trio (Sample’s acoustic piano, Steve Gadd on drums and Christian McBride on bass) providing intimate accompaniment.
On No Regrets the trio returns but is augmented on selected tracks by guitarists Anthony Wilson, Ray Parker Jr., trumpeter Gary Grant and tenor saxophonist Dan Higgins. In both cases, the arrangements are acoustic and make nary a nod toward electronic-laden modern production techniques. This music sounds like something you would find in the organic produce aisles of a market like Whole Foods; indeed, due in no small part to Joe Sample’s artful arrangements, this music is healthy and wholesome.
We close out the overview with a mini-concert Randy and Joe presented at the Montreux Jazz Festival (unfortunately it is not commercially available). Notice the leisurely ease with which they run down the hoo doo. This is slow cooking on a low fire til the meat fall off the bone. No sweat, no unnecessary exertion of energy. When you’re through you don’t fall asleep exhausted, instead you float happily off into dreamland.
The way they swing is so subtle, list how right their phrases fit, voice and piano dancing, Joe Sample’s piano a hummingbird hovering delicately around the deep purple orchid of Randy’s voice. Don’t overlook it just because it’s not flashy. The unhurried emotional impact of Randy and Joe illustrates how sometimes soft can hit heavier than hard.
I’ll leave the last word to Joe Sample to describe Randy’s way with lyrics:
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 sound simple, they sound easy, but they are one of the biggest ass-kickers around, you know? (laughs) They are so simple that nobody can do it. Sometimes it seems that it is easier to just play a continual flurry of notes than to hold one note and get a beautiful sound out of it.
It is 'Let's see how many noted can I play, how many flurries in a very short period of time.' Instead of playing the spaces in between the notes, that is what I play--the spaces in between the notes. Nobody thinks about trying to develop a unique sound. When I hear Miles or Louis Armstrong or Johnny Hodges, the early jazzmen, the jazzmen I love, Coltrane and Charlie Parker, their horns imitated the human voice. That's what today's musicians do not really understand--to imitate the human voice, that is when you put the human element into the music. That is how I got my particular sound on the piano, by trying to reproduce the human voice on my instrument. I love to hear the note sing. That is more important than anything to me.
* * *
Randy & Joe Mixtape Playlist
From Feeling Good
1. "End of the Line"
2. "All Night Long"
3. "Save Your Love For Me"
4. "But Beautiful"
5. "Feeling Good"
From No Regrets
7. "This Bitter Earth"
8. "Lead Me On"
From Live in Montreux
9. "One Day I’ll Fly Away"
10. "Street Life"
13. "Ain’t Misbehavin’ "
14. "Rainy Night In Georgia"
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008 at 1:01 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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