Joe Sample - keyboards; Wilton Felder - tenor sax; Wayne Henderson - trombone; Larry Carlton - guitar; Stix Hooper - drums; Max Bennett - bass
The headliners of an Avery Fisher Hall triple bill that also included violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and the Elvin Jones Quintet, the Crusaders were riding high on the success of their 1974 release Southern Comfort at the time of this concert. The group had been together for 14 years at this point (originally formed in 1960 as the Jazz Crusaders) and in 1972 added young hotshot guitarist Larry Carlton to help their crossover appeal. The resulting mix was fusion of a different kind than the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Reportm, and Return to Forever had been brewing in the early '70s. Rather than searing white-hot licks and stunning virtuosity wedded to rock bombast, the Crusaders blended down-home Southern soul with freewheeling jazz improvisation and just a tinge of rock, courtesy of Carlton's stinging guitar lines. This infectious blend caught on in a big way through the mi-'70s, which represented the group at its zenith, both artistically and commercially. So they were essentially sitting on top of the world at the time of this July 4th Avery Fisher Hall appearance.
They come out of the gate charging hard with the funky "Stomp and Buck Dance," lead track from Southern Comfort. Grounded by Stix Hooper's slamming backbeat and Joe Sample's churchy comping on Wurlitzer electric piano, this earthy offering has the feel of James Brown's backing band, particularly in the tight lines between trombonist Wayne Henderson and tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder, recalling the indelible hookup between Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis of the JBs. Carlton provides some bluesy string-bending statements throughout this chugging one-chord vamp, while Felder and Henderson erupt for some scintillating solos that develop gradually and peak with heated crescendos. Sample also stretches out on this anthemic opener, offering a funky wah-wah laden clavinet solo. From that current number, they reach back to Hooper's "Night Theme" from the 1967 album Uh Huh. The piece opens with some gentle atmospherics on Wurlitzer and percussion by Sample and Hooper, respectively, before segueing to the mellow theme. This dreamy number serves as a nice showcase for Henderson's superb trombone playing. Carlton also turns an expressive blues-tinged solo that builds to a screaming rock-jazz peak on this dynamic number.
Next up is Sample's "Put It Where You Want It," a catchy tune from the Crusaders' 1972 album 1. Carlton's simple but urgently phrased motif is the hook for this head-nodding number that perfectly marries rock, blues, gospel, and jazz. Felder stretches out on a rip-roaring tenor sax solo, and Sample follows with a scorching Wurlitzer solo to elevate the proceedings. A crowd favorite that dominated the airwaves during the summer of '72, this funk classic has remained in the Crusaders repertoire to this day. But it pulsates with a fresh, vibrant energy on this set at Avery Fisher Hall. Sample then goes back to church for a gospel-tinged reading of "Hard Times," David "Fathead" Newman's signature number from his 1959 Atlantic album Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman. Felder testifies on his tenor sax on this emotionally-charged show-stopper, which was a hit single from their 1970 album Old Socks, New Shoes...New Socks, Old Shoes, their last recording as the Jazz Crusaders.
Reaching back to the past once again, they pull out Henderson's "The Young Rabbits" from their 1962 Jazz Crusaders album Lookin' Ahead. This uptempo burner reflects the group's early bebop roots and also showcases Hooper in an extended drum solo in which he gradually builds from a controlled press roll to all manner of Cobhamesque bombast on the kit. And they conclude their set with their famous instrumental remake of Carole King's "So Far Away," which they first covered on 1972's 1 and later reprised on 1974's live Scratch. Carlton's six-string finesse and volume swells add to the ambiance of this soulful interpretation. His fleet-fingered guitar solo here is also outstanding. Felder turns in a scorching tenor solo and Henderson draws hoops from the crowd for his patented circular breathing feat in the middle of the tune in which he holds a note on trombone for what seems like an eternity. Along with "Put It Where You Want It" and Felder's "Way Back Home," "So Far Away" remains in the repertoire of the current edition of the Crusaders.
The core of this extraordinary, long-lasting group goes back to 1954, when Houston pianist Joe Sample teamed up with high school friends Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper to form the Swingsters. After being joined by trombonist Wayne Henderson, flutist Hubert Laws, and bassist Henry Wilson, they became the Modern Jazz Sextet. By 1960, after relocating to Los Angeles, they took the named the Jazz Crusaders and began recording for the Pacific Jazz label, mixing R&B and soul elements with hard bop. By 1971, they changed the band name to the Crusaders and recruited West Coast session guitarist Larry Carlton as a full-time band member. During their successful run through the '70s, the Crusaders racked up a number of hit records, including 1972's 1, 1974's Southern Comfort, 1975's Chain Reaction and Those Southern Knights, and 1976's Free As The Wind. Though Henderson had left the band in 1975 to become a full-time producer and Carlton departed by 1978 to pursue a solo career, the remaining members (Sample, Felder, Hooper) scored a hit in 1979 with Street Life on the strength of the catchy tune track sung by Randy Crawford. Hooper left the group in 1983, but Sample and Felder decided to carry on as the Crusaders. By the mid-'80s, Sample began focusing on his successful solo career, but he has had various reunions with Felder through the 1990s. In 2003, founding members Sample, Felder, and Hooper revived the Crusaders and released Rural Renewal, featuring guest guitarists Ray Parker Jr. and Eric Clapton. That same year, Henderson released Soul Axess under the name Jazz Crusaders. In recent years, Sample and Felder have toured as the Crusaders with Steve Gadd on drums and Sample's son Vince on electric bass… still bringing the funk after all these years. (Milkowski)