***** (5 stars out of 6): March 22 at Store Vega
Most people would connect Randy Crawford to her 1979 chart topper, ‘Street Life’, a song that in many ways defined the ‘70s in a few, funk-filled verses topped by Crawford’s unmistakable high-pitched vocals. There’s much more to the Georgia-born singer though, as I discovered Thursday night at her performance at Store Vega.
Backed by the jolly, endearing Joe Sample on the piano (along with his son on the bass) and a drummer, Crawford sounded as good as she must have way back when she started to carve out a name for herself in the annals of music history. Vega decided to make the concert a seated one shortly before it started, and the decision paid off. This was a show of a different nature, one that will be remembered for some time to come.
Joe Sample and his backing duo set the stage for Crawford, with several lengthy pieces interwoven with hearty anecdotes of episodes from Sample’s musical career. Sample sounded like a cheery old grandpa telling stories to his children (the audience) at times and at others like one of the greatest musicians of modern time, tapping away at the grand piano with picture perfect panache.
Five songs in and Randy Crawford took to the stage, completely at ease and in her element, melting quite a few hearts with a couple of opening tracks. The second of these tracks was a cover of Anthony Newley’s and Leslie Bricusse’s hallmark piece, ‘Feeling Good’, a song which many people connect with Nina Simone, whose cover elevated the recording to the legendary status it enjoys today.
Sample and Crawford are two well-seasoned veterans in the fields of jazz and R&B and the chemistry between them was palpable in the dimly-lit ambience. Both were technically as close to perfection as one would have expected, but it was the casual and laissez-faire sophistication with which both approached their performance that made the show one to remember.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the performance of ‘The End of the Line’, a tune that saw Crawford back up her astounding vocals with a series of tongue clicks and giggles that added a dimension of spontaneity to the show.
The same spontaneity emerged later on too, when Crawford, unassisted by any instrumental backing whatsoever, gave short renditions of random outtakes from songs such as ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ in a wave of impromptu singing.