Children of the Sun
When funk/jazz trombonist Nils Landgren asked Joe Sample to compose songs for a collaboration with the Hamburg-based NDR Bigband, the pianist drew inspiration from colorful, complex concepts he’d been contemplating for decades.
While appearing at the 1995 St. Croix Jazz Festival, Sample was shocked by the contrast between the island’s vibe as a modern paradise and its role in the brutal 17th-century slave trade. This dichotomy infuses tension into his quite-personal-sounding 11-track suite, Children of the Sun. Distinct movements cover vast terrain, from poignant, lush and hopeful ballads to bright, funky reflections of a “Buttermilk Sky” and a whimsical discovery of “Gold in the Cane,” a reference to the sugarcane trade. But the journey turns inward, as well, with the soaring spiritual “I Wanna Go Home”; a moody, floating descent into the “Blue Abyss”; and the mournful meditation “Albatross Day.” Sample deftly explores the musical landscape, utilizing soulful Caribbean, tropical and Latin rhythms to bolster his infectious jazz compositions.
Steve Gadd’s steady drumming and Sample’s trademark touch provide an emotional anchor amid the alternately booming and caressing energy of the Bigband and some crisp, compelling trombone solos by co-producer Landgren. Recorded during two sessions in early 2011, Children of the Sun is among Sample’s last released works. The pianist died in September of last year. And, as parting gifts go, this one is splendid. — Jonathan Widran