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.
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."
Pianist Joe Sample was a pioneer at creating melodic and accessible pop-jazz. His recordings of the 1970s and '80s were consistently popular, especially this best-seller. Sample is joined on most selections by fellow Crusader Stix Hooper on drums; electric bassist Abraham Laboriel; percussionist Paulinho Da Costa; and, often, guitarist Dean Parks. Flutist Hubert Laws guests on "Midnight and Mist." Although it would not be considered creative jazz, the catchy and often-memorable melodies, and Sample's fine playing, makes this CD reissue a pretty definitive example of his solo recordings.
Back in 1978 when this set was recorded, fusion (the mixture of jazz improvisation with rock rhythms) was declining. Keyboardist Joe Sample, best-known for his work with the Crusaders, was in the process of being one of the founders of "contemporary jazz," an idiom that has since solidified into smooth jazz. Sample emphasized catchy melodies, light funk rhythms, appealing chord changes and a pop sensibility. For this accessible release, Sample is joined by the late legendary guitarist Billy Rogers, bassist Pops Popwell, his old Crusaders drummer Stix Hooper, a horn section and several guest guitarists. All eight tunes (which include "Fly with the Wings of Love" and "Islands in the Rain" ) are by the leader, who is heard throughout in melodic form, setting up a variety of light grooves that serve as superior background music.
For the Funk of It is the second thematically focused volume in Blue Note's Original Jam Master Series that draws from guitarist Grant Green's late-period recordings for the label, from 1969 to 1972. Some of the players involved in these sessions include drummer Idris Muhammad, saxophonist Claude Bartee, Jr., Cornell Dupree (rhythm guitar), percussionists Hall Bobby Porter and Ray Armando, bassist Chuck Rainey, organist Emanuel Riggins, and many others. The material here is less bombastic than the soul and funk covers on Green's Ain't It Funky Now!, but they are still deep in the jukebox soul-jazz groove that was rapidly disappearing during the era.
Because the Jazz Crusaders in the early '70s dropped the "Jazz" from their name and later in the decade veered much closer to R&B and pop music than they had earlier, it is easy to forget just how strong a jazz group they were in the 1960s. This CD reissues one of their rarer sessions, augmenting the original seven-song LP program (highlighted by "Blues Up Tight," "Doin' That Thing," and "Milestones") with previously unissued versions of "'Round Midnight" and John Coltrane's "Some Other Blues." The Jazz Crusaders (comprised of tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder, trombonist Wayne Henderson, pianist Joe Sample, drummer Stix Hooper, and, during this period, bassist Leroy Vinnegar) are heard in prime form.
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.