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.
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 tastiest concoctions of the mid-'70s jazz-fusion era, Chain Reaction finds the Crusaders at the top of their form. The compositions are both accessible and memorable, and the playing is uniformly excellent. Guitarist Larry Carlton delivers some of his finest licks and funkified rhythm work. Wayne Henderson shows there is a place in fusion for the trombone. Wilton Felder does double duty, delivering smoking saxophone lines and funky bass riffs. Joe Sample's Fender Rhodes piano provides a solid chordal foundation and great solos. And the stickman, Stix Hooper, keeps the groove solid. The band employs a variety of rhythms and tempos, and gives the members plenty of room to strut their individual and collective stuff. In fact, "collective" may be the key word here, for this is the sound of a band, not just a group of guys thrown together for a recording session. Chain Reaction was one of the albums that helped lure young, rock and soul-oriented listeners over to check out the jazz side, and should not be missed by those interested in the more accessible, funky side of fusion.
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.
In 1971, the Jazz Crusaders reinvented themselves for the first time. First they dropped the word "jazz" from their moniker, and secondly they wholeheartedly embraced electric bass and guitars in their mix. Their new "debut" is a wonder of jazz-funk as a natural evolution out of hard bop and soul-jazz. While the wonderful horn interplay between saxophonist Wilton Felder and trombonist Wayne Henderson is still everywhere evident, the badass, beat-driven rhythm section has Joe Sample playing funky Rhodes piano against Chuck Rainey's basslines and an orgy of guitars – led by Larry Carlton's brilliant lead work. These are all anchored by Stix Hooper's never out-of-the-pocket, popping kit work. Certainly other acts had used the same instrumentation, but the sheer sophistication in the Crusaders compositions and charts combined with their dedication to grooved-out accessibility – and Stewart Levine's magnificent production – made them a singular entity even in the up-and-coming jazz-rock fusion scene.
Although the Crusaders could not have known it at the time, their recording of "Street Life" (which features a memorable vocal by Randy Crawford) was a last hurrah for the 20-year old group. Their recordings of the next few years would decline in interest until the band gradually faded away in the '80s. However this particular set is well worth picking up for the 11-minute title cut and there is good playing by the three original members (Wilton Felder on tenor, soprano and electric bass, keyboardist Joe Sample and drummer Stix Hooper) along with guitarist Barry Finnerty; horn and string sections, plus additional guitarists are utilized on Sample's commercial but listenable arrangements.
There's a terrific reason why the triple-CD Crusaders retrospective The Golden Years included six of Free as the Wind's eight tracks – the material. Indeed, side one of the LP version may be the strongest single side of original tunes that the band ever put together. It opens with Joe Sample's driving, tense title cut, and flows flawlessly through Stix Hooper's subtly funky "I Felt the Love," Pops Popswell's infectiously finger-popping "The Way We Was" (a high point in the Crusaders' groove collection), and Larry Carlton's steamy vehicle for Wilton Felder, "Nite Crawler."