Joe Sample is one of a handful of instrumentalists whose music was a major source of inspiration for this entire blog. Over the years,the music he and members of the Crusaders have made became key conversational points between myself and Henrique Hopkins. That’s because in both our cases, Sample was also key in bringing us into the big and wonderful world of the funk jazz genre. And I’m going to put funk first there because Joe Sample is someone whose very sound on the keyboards was defined by a great technical understanding of how to project his soul. So it only seems appropriate that Sample would refer to his early/mid 90’s era group as the Soul Committee.
Right around the time I was just seriously getting into The Crusaders, my dad and I would frequent a small record store in the Maine college town of Orono known as Dr. Records. One day one of the people who worked there had the then new Joe Sample & The Soul Committee 1993 album entitled Did You Feel That? playing in the store as we browsed the racks and crates. My dad picked the CD up that day. And it’s been a frequent road trip favorite on family car rides ever since. There’s a sense of motion about all of it. One song I just could not get out of my head-even to this day. And the name of the song is a strong musical statement of intent: “Viva De Funk”.
Crowd sounds with a strong party atmosphere not only begin this song,but define it’s rhythmic element in the classic soul jazz manner of numbers like the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “The In Crowd”. Steve Gadd’s slow rolling,percussive drums keep the rhythm moving straight ahead with Freddie Washington’s bass thump,the wah wah guitar and the trumpeter Oscar Breshear carrying the main melody along with Sample’s bluesy Fender Rhodes electric piano playing. The trumpet plays another whole melodic statement before the wah wah mixes up and sax player Joe Peskin adds his own grease before Sample returns on acoustic piano for the final refrain before the main rhythm closes it all out.
One thing that always gets me about this groove is that while the instrumentation seems small,their band’s interaction is very full. That’s probably because the melodic aspect of the song carries it, but the bulk of the song is based in rhythm. In classic funk style the drums,guitar,bass and crowd noises all play a percussive element to it’s own movement. It all stays right on the one. Joe Sample’s place in this works on both levels. The thick sound of his Rhodes takes on the rhythmic meat of the tune, while the piano solo carries the melody. So Sample again showcases his strong understanding of funk here, but also where a given instrumental sound’s place within the groove should be.