With the supremely funky rhythm section of Marcus Miller (bass), Lenny Castro (percussion) and Omar Hakim (drums) propelling his piano most of the way -- the other ringers on a few tracks aren't bad either -- you would think that Joe Sample couldn't miss on this solo outing, Spellbound. Indeed, his distinctive piano cannot be mistaken for anyone else's, free of the usual mainstream influences and always a pleasure to groove to. And yet there is something too comfortable, too settled, too automatic about the musicmaking here, as if the grooves are being smothered by a warm, snuggly electric blanket. Another problem is the material; not much leaps into your memory banks. Nor is it meant to, perhaps, since the gently sustained electronic textures suggest that this is, above all, high-class background music. Al Jarreau, Michael Franks and Take 6 -- all Warner Bros. signees, natch -- put in characteristic cameo vocal appearances on one track apiece, and a background choir sings "Luna en New York" in Spanish.
by Richard S. Ginell