Joe Sample

Scott Joplin, James Reese Europe, Fats Waller, Nat King Cole -- pianist Joe Sample spent a lot of time conjuring ghosts during his trio's performance at the Birchmere on Sunday night.

A specially tailored Halloween treat? Not exactly, explained the 65-year-old Houston native, well known for his '70s soul-jazz hits with the Crusaders and a fixture on smooth-jazz radio these days. "I always thought I was born at the wrong time," he told the crowd. "I wanted to be a part of the renaissance in Harlem."

Like the recently released "Soul Shadows," Sample's first solo piano CD, the concert often defied that twist of fate. Playing unaccompanied, Sample performed "The Entertainer" slowly, the way Joplin intended, and evoked Waller's genius with a pair of sharply contrasting arrangements: a thumping stride-piano version of "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" and an unusually reflective, blues-tinted rendering of "Ain't Misbehavin'."

Earlier in the evening, in collaboration with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum, Sample fashioned other tributes. "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You?" recalled the Nat King Cole trio's elegantly streamlined brand of swing, while an original tune, dubbed "Memories," paid homage to the tenor-sax titans of the swing era and hewed to a gliding, Count Basie pulse.

Sample and his well-matched mates explored contemporary jazz grooves as well on "One on One," "Spellbound" and other original tunes. Yet nothing proved more rewarding or refreshing than the ragtime and early jazz sounds that turned back the clock.

-- Mike Joyce

Blue Oyster Cult

Blue Oyster Cult, a New York band that fell out of favor around the same time as high school smoking courts, delivered a fun period-piece rock show Friday at Jaxx, the region's home of period-piece rock shows.

Seems hard to believe after all these years, even with the useless umlaut in its trademarked name and a reliance on songs about hell and dinosaurs, that Blue Oyster Cult used to sell out arenas and possessed gobs of credibility among the cool kids and rock critics. Its members rubbed leather-jacketed elbows with CBGB's punks; keyboardist Allen Lanier wrote songs with and was even engaged to the queen of that scene, Patti Smith. Time was when graffiti of the BOC logo, a combination of a cross and question mark, could be found wherever teens congregated.

But nobody onstage or in the audience at Jaxx was confused about the artistic relevance of the affair. At the merchandise table, fans could buy Blue Oyster Cult T-shirts -- from the band's 1978 North American tour. And in his rousing introduction of the night's headline entertainment, Jaxx owner Jay Nedry urged fans to confess if they'd bought the band's 1972 debut "on eight-track tape."

"Don't Fear the Reaper," BOC's smash from 1978, has the most famous cowbell solo in rock history, due largely to a Christopher Walken skit about the song on "Saturday Night Live." There's no budget for a cowbell soloist on BOC tours these days, so guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser played air cowbell with a wide smile between guitar breaks. On "Godzilla," keyboardist Lanier banged his head like a graybeard Beavis; for "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll," from BOC's first album, lead singer Eric Bloom coaxed the audience into screaming "Rock and roll!" as though they were all back in high school, hanging out in the smoking court.

-- Dave McKenna