Possessing not the greatest album sleeve in history - "Images" was nonetheless a bit of a Jazz-Funk peach. Produced by "Stix" Hooper, Wilton Felder & Joe Sample for "Crusader Productions, Inc." and mastered by long-standing expert Bernie Grundman, it followed so much of their Seventies output - really well-produced instrumental funky tracks followed by mellow ones that filled both the floor and the heart at one and the same time. Remastered from the original tapes by KEVIN REEVES at Universal Mastering in the States, it now sounds FABULOUS - really clear and defined - and virtually hiss-free. After a whole decade and umpteen albums of their particular type of funk & jazz, the same team that handled "Images" would finally hit paydirt a year later in 1979 with the global smash of "Street Life" and make Randy Crawford a star.
One of the many jazzmen who started out playing hard bop but went electric during the fusion era, Joe Sample was, in the late '50s, a founding member of the Jazz Crusaders along with trombonist Wayne Henderson, tenor saxman Wilton Felder, and drummer Stix Hooper. The Crusaders' debt to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers wasn't hard to miss – except that the L.A.-based unit had no trumpeter, and became known for its unique tenor/trombone front line. Sample, a hard-swinging player who could handle chordal and modal/scalar improvisation equally well, stuck to the acoustic piano during the Crusaders' early years – but would place greater emphasis on electric keyboards when the band turned to jazz-funk in the early '70s and dropped "Jazz" from its name.
Groove Crusade is a smoking little sampling of the Crusaders recordings from 1970-1979. It is a compilation of tunes assembled from the beginning of the period where they dropped the word "Jazz" from the front of their name as a reaction to the harsh words the band received from jazz critics throughout the 1960s.
The follow-up to 1973's Unsung Heroes was the first of the group's Blue Thumb efforts to be distributed by ABC Records. The label switch also coincided with the inclusion of lyrical guitarist Larry Carlton as a full-fledged member. A good representation of the Crusaders' tasteful and intelligent playing, Southern Comfort is more than recommended to their fans.
Given the critical and commercial success of 1 and their rebirth as the "Crusaders," the band decided to follow up the previous LP's double length with another one! There are 13 tunes here, all extrapolating the band's previously held notions of soul-jazz and hard bop as they emerged into the new funky '70s. Textures were a little different this time out as keyboardist Joe Sample expanded his palette to include not only the Fender Rhodes but also his first (subtle) forays into synthesizer, while Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder keep the crisp horn charts popping throughout. Stix Hooper was, at the time, the best soul-jazz drummer in the business with the possible exception of Idris Muhammad.
Features the high-fidelity SHM-CD format (compatible with standard CD player) and 24 bit remastering. Featuring the work of obscure composer/pianist Todd Cochrane, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's 1971 album Head On is a highly cerebral and atmospheric affair that is somewhat different than his other equally experimental '70s work. Although the album does feature more of the avant-garde jazz that Hutcherson was exploring during this period, Cochrane's material is heavily influenced by contemporary classical music, and accordingly Head On is more of an exercise in reflective, layered jazz than rambunctious freebop – though it does offer some of that, too.
When trombonist/producer Wayne Henderson, pianist/keyboardist Joe Sample, sax-man Wilton Felder, and drummer Stix Hooper changed their name from the Jazz Crusaders to the Crusaders back in 1971, it signaled a more R&B-minded direction for the group – they were always funky, but in the '70s, they became even funkier. And so, the names the Crusaders and the Jazz Crusaders came to stand for two different things – if the Jazz Crusaders were synonymous with a funky yet acoustic-oriented approach to hard bop (à la Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers), the Crusaders were about electric-oriented jazz-funk and fusion. In 1995, Henderson (who left the Crusaders in 1975) resurrected the name the Jazz Crusaders and produced Happy Again for the small, Los Angeles-based Sin-drome Records.
The first album by the Jazz Crusaders (which started an extensive series for Pacific Jazz) introduced the colorful quintet. With trombonist Wayne Henderson and tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder giving the ensembles a unique sound, the group (also featuring regular members pianist Joe Sample and drummer Stix Hooper along with guests Jimmy Bond on bass and guitarist Roy Gaines) managed to strike a balance between creative hard bop and accessible soul-jazz. In addition to their version of "Theme From Exodus" (hoping to jump on the bandwagon created by Eddie Harris' hit rendition), the Jazz Crusaders perform originals by Felder, Henderson, and Sample ("Freedom Sound").
Recorded live at the Roxy, Scratch was one of the Crusaders' best recordings, an extravaganza of jazz and funk with great soloing from the group on top of a set of excellent grooves. From the loose-limbed funk of "Scratch" to a restless, understated version of their live standard "Eleanor Rigby" (which they'd been performing live for over six years), the Crusaders displayed a command of R&B forms in a jazz context. Another cover, Carole King's "So Far Away," is betrayed by a muddy '70s arrangement and sound, but nothing else here fails to illustrate the excellence of the best R&B group in the jazz world.