Ashes to Ashes

Genre: Jazz; Lead Performer: Joe Sample; Producer (group): Warner Bros.

Pianist Joe Sample’s ensemble work — swinging, intelligently wrought tunes, all but void of difficult harmonies, individual quirks, or surprise — has become the background music of choice in recent years for people who like their jazz sophisticated but not intrusive. That may be one of the reasons Sample decided to make a statement with Ashes to Ashes by attempting, as he has said, to infuse the purely instrumental tracks with an impressionistic message about the desperate state of the African-American community and his hopes for its revival. Problem is, you wouldn’t get Sample’s message from the music alone. His musical temperament is as mild as ever, and though the mood here is unusually pensive, that only seems to make the album more suitable for background listening. But there’s nothing dishonorable in that: After all, Mozart wrote mood music, too. B

Originally posted January 11 1991 — 12:00 AM EST

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