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Sample, Wilson and Nash at their best on North Side

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Saturday, March 16, 2013, 10:37 p.m.

Joe Sample, Steve Wilson and Lewis Nash have been surrounded by many talented colleagues in their careers.

But in a concert March 16 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side, they proved the best ways to hear them are in much leaner settings.

Sample, best known for his time with the Crusaders, played solo piano, while Wilson and Nash performed in a duo in sets that were wonderful displays of their talents.

Each performer was able to show off his own skills and Nash and Wilson also displayed great understanding of each other. There were times Nash was hitting his cymbals for accents precisely as Wilson was striking a note.

Sample's set also was filled with bits of chatter between songs in which he would explain his thoughts about a particular piece or its role in music, often with a caustic or sarcastic touch.

While the pianist played three of his own tunes, both sets were filled with well known numbers that were given highly individual approaches. Sample, for instance, opened with a version of Scott Joplin's “The Entertainer” that was far removed form what the ragtime maven wrote. He played it much slower with focus on the rich and full notes of his left hand. It was not the bright, whimsical piece that is often played; it was more dramatic and rousing.

Likewise, Wilson and Nash did Duke Ellington's “The Mooche” in a way that reflected his band styling, but was vastly different because of its size.

Sample displayed a powerful technique at the piano. Hearing him at a grand piano in a concert setting is far different from the soulful work for which he is well known. His version of “Misty,” for instance, was a dramatic exploration of the song he said always played a key role in winning talent shows as a young player.

Wilson and Nash shared their remarkable skills. The saxophonist showed great, fluid technique and a quickness that let him explore demanding passages in Thelonious Monk's “Four in One.” His tone is always pure, avoiding the breathy raspiness that seems a part of some player's styles.

Nash is a phenomenal drummer, explaining why he shows up so often on recordings and in bands. He is particularly adept at his use of cymbals, always finding new ways of using them. At one point in “Jitterbug Waltz,” his use of his brushes lowered the sound level of his percussive exploration, but maintained a high aggressiveness.

These three players really don't need anyone else around them.

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