You would think that in this day and age of compact disc reissues and with many years of activity under our belts that just about everything worthy of release has at one time or another made it to the stores. But even though jazz stands in good steed these days in terms of the availability of classic music, there still exists small pockets of music that have somehow eluded us and that is where this set falls. And when a release like this one comes along it's like being a kid at Christmas time all over again.
To put this all into perspective, remember that the only full studio album available for years by The Jazz Crusaders from their Pacific Jazz days has been Freedom Sound. Then for whatever reasons, the folks at Capitol decided next to focus their energies on the many live sessions that Joe Sample and crew cut while under contract to Pacific Jazz. That left an avid Jazz Crusaders fan with no other choice but to have to track down the studio albums on vintage vinyl.
This six-disc set now collects all the Pacific Jazz studio sessions for the first time on CD, namely the albums Freedom Sound, Lookin' Ahead, Tough Talk, Heat Wave, Stretchin' Out, The Thing, Uh Huh, and Powerhouse. Furthermore, a 1970 album for Liberty, Give Peace a Chance, is included in what adds up to ninety performances. Among those you'll also find some 11 tracks that are previously unissued. Now what you won't find here are the albums Talk That Talk (recorded with a big band), Chile Con Soul (a Latinized affair already available on disc), and Jazz Waltz (a collaboration with Les McCann).
Although much has been made in regards to the legitimacy of West Coast hard bop and some might only be familiar with this band after they dropped the "jazz from their name, the fact remains that these performances should leave no doubt that Joe Sample, Wilton Felder, Wayne Henderson, and Stix Hooper were and are highly skilled jazz artists capable of making great music. In fact, no less than the highly regarded trombonist Conrad Herwig recently told this reviewer that he's always been enamored of the these early recordings of the Jazz Crusaders.
There's much to enjoy here, from the spicy sound of Wilton Felder's gutsy Texas tenor to the ebullient bone work of Wayne Henderson or Joe Sample's fleet and crystalline touch, not to mention Stix Hooper's resilient beat. These guys were every bit as gifted as their East Coast counterparts. This was also true of their skills in the composition department. Sample favorites such as "New Time Shuffle, "Freedom Sound, and "Weather Beat get their unique flavor by exploring varied and disparate moods and grooves. Wayne Henderson also brought his own share of colorful material. Quintessential in its use of multi-note runs and clever phrases, Henderson's "The Young Rabbits cooks on high heat and Felder shouts in true Western style.
There's a strong sense of continuity that develops over the course of the nine original Pacific Jazz albums that span the years 1961 to 1968. Even when covering pop numbers such as The Beatles' "Hey Jude or "Mister Sandman, there's a palpable feeling of conviction that makes everything work. This can also be said for the last album in the set, 1970's Give Peace a Chance. Check out how the group transforms another Beatles ditty, "Blackbird, some twenty years before Tony Williams would try a go at the tune himself with his popular '90s ensemble. It's the eleven-minute Felder original, "Space Settlement, though that reminds us that Sample and crew could have continued squarely within the jazz tradition if they had wanted to, but other ideas were soon to be in the offing.
It should come as no surprise that this set offers us an aural delight, as producer Dick Bock and his team of engineers always insisted on product marked by superb sound. The 16-page booklet includes session-by-session commentary from Bob Blumenthal and many photos from the era.
CD1: The Geek; M.J.S Funk; That's It; Freedom Sound; Theme From Exodus; Coon; M.J.S. Funk (alternate version); Coon (alternate version); Song Of India; Big Hunk Of Funk; Tonight; 507 Neyland; Till All Ends; Tortoise & The Hare; In A Dream; The Young Rabbits.
CD2: Sinnin' Sam; Weather Beat; Scandalizing; White Cobra; Cathy's Delight; Congolese Sermon; One Leg Dance; Deacon Brown; Turkish Black; Brahms Lullaby; Boopie; Tough Talk; No Name Samba; Lazy Canary; Lonely Horn; Brother Bernard; Moon River.
CD3: On Broadway; Greenback Dollar; Close Shave; Free Sample; Mr. Sandman; Heat Wave; Sassy; Theme From "The L-Shaped Room" (T-Shaped Twist); Some Samba; Stix March; Purple Onion; Long John; Robbins' Nest; You Are Sometimes Only Rain; Out Back; Bachafillen; I'll Remember Tomorrow; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; Sweetwater.
CD4: The Thing; Sunset In The Mountains; While The City Sleeps; White Cobra; New Time Shuffle; Para Mi Espoza; Soul Kosher; Tribute To Charles; A Trane Thing; New Time Shuffle (alternate version); The Thing (alternate version); Uptight (Everything's Alright); The Shadow Do ; Scratch; Isa's Chant.
CD5: Blue Monday; Night Theme; Uh Huh; Air Waves; Ice Water; Watts Happening; Promises, Promises; Love And Peace; Hey Jude; Sting Ray; Fancy Dance.
CD6: Love is Blue; Cookie Man; Upstairs; Firewater; Give Peace A Chance; I Think It Was A Dream; Black Bird; The Thrill Is Gone; Anita's New Dance; Space Settlement; All The Lonely Years; Another Blues.
Jimmy Bond, Bobby Haynes, Monk Montgomery, Victor Gaskin, Leroy Vinnegar, Buster Williams: bass; Roy Gaines, Joe Pass, Arthur Adams: guitar.