Tag: Joni Mitchell

MUSIC REVIEW: Prince Stuns at Emotional ‘Piano and a Microphone’ Solo Show

Prince; Live Review; Paisley Park
Prince played his first ever solo piano show at his Paisley Park compound on January 21. (Photo: NPG Records)

Prince approached the piano, a purple baby grand. He landed a single chord, resonant and bassy. He stood. He walked away.

As we could have guessed, Prince’s first-ever (first ever?) solo show last night at Paisley Park, his home compound in suburban Minnesota, was no simple, straightforward affair. The 57-year-old funk-pop wizard approached the performance as a challenge, an opportunity to prove that he could deliver a full Prince show without much of anything we expect from a full Prince show: No powerhouse band, no impossibly lithe dancing, no masterful guitar fireworks. Just, as the show’s official title put it, “Piano & a Microphone.” And a lot of Prince. Maybe more Prince than he’s ever shared before.

Prince framed the evening as an autobiographical struggle, the story of how he mastered the piano and emerged from the shadow of his father, a jazz pianist. The set moved chronologically (with a few exceptions) through the first decade of Prince’s career, including at least one song from each of his first 10 albums. Familiar melodies splintered into virtuosic cascades for a dreamlike effect, as though Prince was remembering the birth of his career in real time.

The night began with some introductory psychodrama. Elegantly casual in his mauve pajamas, that enormous afro dominating his slim frame, Prince took a stage decorated sparsely with candles, befogged by a smoke machine, his personal glyph looming from behind, illuminated by kaleidoscopic patterns. His voice was doused in heavy echo as he expressed the dreams and doubts of a child who sneaks down without permission to play his father’s piano. “I can’t play piano like my dad. How does dad do that?” he wondered, while attempting improvisations that, at one point, suggested Thelonious Monk teaching himself the theme to Batman.

Then it got sexy. Prince’s fingers were everywhere during “Baby,” a ballad from his 1978 debut For You that served as foreplay to the full-body workouts “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Dirty Mind” before the ecstatic squeals of “Do Me, Baby” provided the climax. Multiple climaxes, even.

Prince moved between songs fluidly. He introduced the moving ballad “Free” by celebrating “the freedom to say no,” later interrupting the song to wipe a tear and briefly mourn David Bowie: “I only met him once. He was nice to me. He seemed like he was nice to everybody.” Before we knew it, he was in the middle of a gorgeous take on a longtime Prince favorite, Joni Mitchell‘s “A Case of You,” which transformed into a bluesy vamp that Prince used as a lesson in musicology. “The space between the notes — that’s the good part,” he said. “How long the space is — that’s how funky it is or how funky it ain’t.” And just like that, he was was moaning the spiritual lament “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

The intimate setting was ideal for falsetto-wrenched ballads like “Sometimes It Snows in April” and “The Breakdown,” one of a handful of newer songs inserted into the set. But Prince never forgot that the piano is a rhythm instrument. If the old-time boogie-woogie masters didn’t need drums to rock a party, well, neither did Prince. He remade “Paisley Park” as a bluesy, gutbucket romp, and his pumping left hand recalled Ray Charles, a debt he made clear when he ripped into the soul legend’s “Unchain My Heart,” a song he recalled playing with his father.

“I thought I would never be able to play like my dad,” he said. “And he never missed an opportunity to remind me of it.” But Prince’s playing belied his modesty. His florid right-hand runs had a little of the theatricality of Liberace in them, but with more tasteful jazz inflections as well. Paying tribute to his past collaborators Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, he credited Lisa with introducing him to the complex chording of jazzman Bill Evans then played the harpsichord part she wrote for “Raspberry Beret.” “That’s the whole song, right?”

Continue reading “MUSIC REVIEW: Prince Stuns at Emotional ‘Piano and a Microphone’ Solo Show”

R.I.P. Composer, Pianist and Jazz Crusader Joe Sample

Joe Sample at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2011. His last solo album, “Children of the Sun,” is to be released this fall. (Credit: Jean-Christophe Bott/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Joe Sample, who became a jazz star in the 1960s as the pianist with the Jazz Crusaders and an even bigger star a decade later when he began playing electric keyboards and the group simplified its name to the Crusaders, died on Friday in Houston. He was 75.

The cause was mesothelioma, said his manager, Patrick Rains.

The Jazz Crusaders, who played the muscular, bluesy variation on bebop known as hard bop, had their roots in Houston, where Mr. Sample, the tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder and the drummer Nesbert Hooper (better known by the self-explanatory first name Stix) began performing together as the Swingsters while in high school.

Mr. Sample met the trombonist Wayne Henderson at Texas Southern University and added him, the bassist Henry Wilson and the flutist Hubert Laws — who would soon achieve considerable fame on his own — to the group, which changed its name to the Modern Jazz Sextet.

The band worked in the Houston area for several years but did not have much success until Mr. Sample, Mr. Felder, Mr. Hooper and Mr. Henderson moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders, a reference to the drummer Art Blakey’s seminal hard-bop ensemble, the Jazz Messengers. Their first album, “Freedom Sound,” released on the Pacific Jazz label in 1961, sold well, and they recorded prolifically for the rest of the decade, with all four members contributing compositions, while performing to enthusiastic audiences and critical praise.

In the early 1970s, as the audience for jazz declined, the band underwent yet another name change, this one signifying a change in musical direction. Augmenting their sound with electric guitar and electric bass, with Mr. Sample playing mostly electric keyboards, the Jazz Crusaders became the Crusaders. Their first album under that name, “Crusaders 1,” featuring four compositions by Mr. Sample, was released on the Blue Thumb label in 1972.

Continue reading “R.I.P. Composer, Pianist and Jazz Crusader Joe Sample”