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The Crusaders: Crusaders I

John Ballon By

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Most people think that when the Jazz Crusaders dropped the "Jazz" from their name, they also dropped the jazz from their playing. When the band first decided to call themselves the Crusaders, it was only to expand their musical horizons beyond what was narrowly defined as "jazz" at the time. True, the band quickly came to symbolize the commercial dumbing-down of once vibrant and creative jazz musicians in the lean years of the 1970s.

And true, the band eventually turned their backs on quality, ignoring their jazz legacy in favor of a slick pop repertoire that quickly degenerated into over-produced elevator music with a beat. But what most people fail to realize is that the Crusaders did not just suddenly decide to purge themselves of all their musical talents and integrity in exchange for fat pay checks. In reality, the Crusaders had a short-lived period of transition in the early ‘70s that was damn good. Crusaders I is not only their most successful post-Jazz Crusaders album, it stands as one of the highpoints of their entire productive career (that is, before they started cranking out worthless fluff). This 1971 double-album captures a talented bunch of jazz musicians energetically reaching out to embrace the best elements of rock and funk, but without compromising their integrity. With their masterful improvising skills still in full force, the Crusaders plugged in, adding electric piano, electric bass, and most importantly, the electric guitar of Larry Carlton. Keeping their signature trombone & saxophone frontline of Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder, the band really let loose, putting a heavy jazz-rock edge over the funky rhythms of Sly & The Family Stone, The Meters, and James Brown.

The album opens with "That’s How I Feel," an 8-minute funk workout that stands right along side Booker T. & The MGs classic, "Melting Pot." Larry Carlton’s wah-pedaled guitar sounds like it was lifted straight out of a Blaxploitation soundtrack. Electric bass groove is amply provided by the immortal Chuck Rainey. As usual, drummer Stix Hooper shows us all how it’s done. The future undoing of the band is previewed in their overly faithful cover of Carol King’s "So Far Away." Still, Wilton Felder stretches enough on sax to turn the tune sufficiently on its ears. "Mystique Blues," "Georgia Cornfield," and "Mosadi (Woman)" combine avant-garde improvisations with solidly rooted funk grooves, creating a dynamic fusion sound similar to that produced by Creed Taylor on the classic Freddie Hubbard and Hubert Laws records of the era. The later albums of the Crusaders were high-profile examples of the commercial excesses of fusion, explaining how it became the "F" word among jazz fans. The success of such slick classics as 1979’s Street Life has unfortunately overshadowed the fact that the Crusaders recorded a few gems in the early ‘70s. Crusaders I is a highly enjoyable, jamming and soulful record that deserves wider recognition. Open your mind and check it out!

Date: 1972

Label: MCA

Tracks

1. That's How I Feel

2. So Far Away

3. Put It Where You Want It

4. Mystique Blues

5. Full Moon

6. Sweet Revival

7. Mud Hole

8. It's Just Gotta Be That W

9. Georgia Cottonfield

10. A Shade Of Blues

11. Three Children

12. Mosadi (Woman)

Players

Joe Sample - Keyboards

Wilton Felder - Saxophone

Wayne Henderson - Trombone

Larry Carlton - Guitar

Arthur Adams - Guitar

David T. Walker - Guitar

Chuck Rainey - Bass

Stix Hooper - Drums

This review first appeared at MustHear.com .

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