Hearkening back to the days of ragtime and stride, when a pianist could sit down alone and play unaccompanied for hours keeping the fans enraptured, Soul Shadow by Joe Sample brings a taste of these days gone by to the luxury of one’s own stereo. While not quite as authentic in his renditions as say Dick Hyman, Sample’s modern twist to the arrangements and his distinct playing style yields a solid effort that is sure to please both the diehard stride fan as well as the casual listener.
While Sample keeps fairly tight to the melody, it never feels like a rehash of an old standard. Sample’s subtle changes to the arrangements and the loving touch Sample adds to each tune make them shine as if this were the first time they were being played. Whether it’s walking, rolling, or comping, Sample’s left hand continually shifts patterns lending a dynamic quality that keeps the songs fresh while freeing his right hand to solo or play interesting counter point.
The album opens with How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm. Think modern day piano roll. The song has an upbeat ragtime/stride feel to it with a combination of 1930’s feel but with slight modern influences. Next up, we are treated to a novel version of Ain’t Misbehavin’. Slowed down to a ballad pace and slightly modernized, the song still maintains the feel and essence of Waller’s original. Picking the pace up slightly, Avalon returns to a medium tempo stride piece with a bouncy left-hand rhythm with the right keeping a solid melody going. Moving on to Soul Shadows, a Sample composition, we return to the ballad format. A lovely blues based piece with a gorgeous ‘Round Midnight intro and feel to it. This song is one of the highlights of the album. I Got Rhythm is played with an interesting twist on standard. Sample reworks the Gershwin arrangement to give it a Cole Porter showtune sound with great counter-rhythm and melody between the left and right hands. Interesting use of dissonance in the last couple of bars closes out the piece. Sample takes the opportunity to rework another standard in the form of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer by slowing down the classic ragtime tune to a ballad. It sounds a little odd at first given the familiarity with the tune, but after a repeat listens, one begins to appreciate the subtle reworking with its slightly forward, pressed feel. Another solid tune, Shreveport Stomp starts with stride but modulates into a modern vain before coming back out into stride to finish off the tune. Closing out the album, Sample returns to the Waller book with Jitterbug waltz. Again Sample slows the tempo down just slightly but maintains a nice bounce interspersed with piano runs. Sample keeps the song fresh by using variations on the theme and subtle shifts in tempo that hold the listener’s interest.
A fun album that never fails to hold the listener’s attention, Soul Shadows does an excellent job of updating ragtime and stride classics with a modern touch. Beautifully recorded with a nice full piano sound and excellent dynamics, the recording allows one to hear all the nuances of the piano. These modern renditions allow us a glimpse into the past while also showing how timeless music can be.