A TOP RECORDING OF 2015. Children Of The Sun, an impressionistic album about the early European slave trade on St. Croix, is the first posthumous release from the remarkably gifted composer and prolific keyboardist Joe Sample who passed away at 75 on September 12, 2014.

Sample was a musician who successfully forged art with commerce throughout his storied career as a solo artist and with The Crusaders, and this collaboration with the Hamburg, Germany-based 17-member NDR Big Band will satisfy traditional jazz listeners with its bright and acrobatic charts as well as contemporary jazz fans that delight in Sample’s signature keyboard style.

Sample and the band come out swinging with a killer horn-centric and percussive riff on “I Wanna Go Home,” anchored by session drummer Steve Gadd whose tasty licks keep the groove churning. Another masterful Sample vamp fuels the burning, half-stepping vibe that weaves throughout the second tune, “Buttermilk Sky.” With charts that leave plenty of space for blistering horn solos highlighted by trombonist Nils Landgren (with whom Sample has previously collaborated), this is squarely Sample’s show rich with irresistibly jazzy hooks that typify his best songs. Notably, “Islands Of The Mind” and “Albatross Day” further illustrate his succinct piano style and graceful touch. For its serious subject matter, this is an unusually joyful album.

In addition to Sample on grand piano and Fender Rhodes, the copascetic rhythm section also spotlights bassist Ingmar Heller, an integral actor in conveying the soulful essence of Sample’s music. Each tune is pleasingly textured with layers of brass and rhythmic flow, smoothly navigated by conductor/arranger Jorg Achim Keller. The cover painting is by the late Geoffrey Holder.

Sample had an innate sense of harmonics and swing that he crafted into rapturous melodies – they were hip, crowd pleasing and always deeply felt. He lifted up contemporary jazz and never trafficked in the rhythmic monotony that dominates so many current smooth jazz recordings. Like all jazz greats whose time was cut short, the one-of-a-kind Joe Sample left the bandstand much too soon. (11 tracks; 63 minutes)

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