The Crusaders, JVC Jazz Festival 2003, New York

The Crusaders


Avery Fisher Hall, June 28, 2003:


       The Crusaders grace the Avery Fisher Hall stage at 9:03 P.M. Amidst smoke from a machine and the band’s tuning someone yells out, “Do it Joe!” The wieldy opening number, “Spiral,” is a funky fusion arrangement. The Crusaders are a six-piece band: piano, guitar, bass, tenor sax, trombone and drums. Wilton Felder takes a flavorful tenor solo going first to the high register then down through the middle, executing nice melodic modulation through the changes. The trombonist, Stephen Baxter, takes a thoughtful and tasteful solo. The rhythm section is syncopated and funky. Joe Sample solos on electric piano playing slick melodic development with well placed flourishes and crescendos.

       The next composition is from the new CD release Rural Renewal called, “Viva De Funk.” The drummer, Kendrick Scott, utilizes the reverse stick on the snare and a succinct closed hi-hat. This tune has a very pleasing, upbeat and funky melody and nice changes to the bridge. The trombone solo starts fast, then lays back showcasing nice flourishes and crescendos with well-chosen high notes. Wilton Felder plays a wailin’ sax gliding seamlessly through the changes. Joe Sample’s piano solo is excellent. He develops the melody and vigorously plays the accents with both hands. Guitarist, Ray Parker Jr., plays excellent scratch rhythm guitar with creative chord melodies.

       Joe introduces the next tune for us fellas, “Creepin’.” The music connotes a sneaky and soulful imagery. It reminds him of days as a young single man. Joe is old school. Joe mentions his Fender Rhodes as an instrument of prestige: “These synthesizers don’t have enough guts!” Creepin’ starts with a solo piano passage that develops the melody with a special delicate melodic touch. The bass, played by Freddie Washington, is robust and resonant. The drummer uses the reverse stick to be light and concise. The music is slinky, sultry and thought provoking, with a nice change to the bridge. Steven Baxter plays a muted trombone solo that is unusual in form and context and features long sustain notes. The tenor solo starts off carefully and meticulously then wails with squealing crescendos of high notes. Joe Sample’s solo starts out coy and playful and is extended to powerful melodic runs and creative chord accents. The ending is a subdued musical statement, reserved and composed; a sly groove to a cut time end.

     The next composition, “Way Back Home,” is also affectionately known as, “The Anthem.” During the 70’s, on a Hawaiian stopover during a tour of Japan, The Crusaders were questioned by the authorities about their affiliation with the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army). Apparently, this composition was their theme song. The audience is all clapping on the ones. There is a nice ensemble groove. The tenor solo develops the melody, moves easily through the changes, and then wails the high notes very effectively. Joe takes an excellent piano solo. Song five, “Carnival Of The Night,” is off the Streetlife LP. Joe has a funky piano lead to a hard and funky tempo that places accent down on the ones. The band moves confidently and assuredly through the familiar changes demonstrating experience and musical performance ease. The trombone solo is highly syncopated, utilizing dramatic slides up to crescendo notes. The tenor is gutsy, ballsy and robust. Wilton glides seamlessly and effortlessly through the accents and changes. Joe’s piano solo is excellent! The band is super hot and very solid for him to solo over. The groove is very, very FAT! The bass resounds and lays the solid rhythmic foundation.

       Joe comments that he was a studio man in the seventies. A Warner Brothers new artist really impressed and moved him and that artist was Randy Crawford. The band falls into a groove, which is sultry, sexy and confident as Randy Crawford sings, “Rio De Janeiro Blues.” There is an immediate exceptional musical blend as Randy is clear and confident with her experienced strong tenor vocal delivery and warm timbre. The tenor sax solo meanders creatively through the chord changes. The key signature goes up a minor 2nd to an even stronger range for Randy. Joe Sample shadows Randy’s vocal with melodic flourishes and arpeggios that mirror her lyrical delivery, then they all fade to a subtle ending. The Crusaders do a John Lennon song next, “Imagine.” This slow ballad is done sincerely and with due respect. The vocal delivery falls off the melody rhythmically, for creative effect, and is complemented by excellent use of rests. The drummer uses the reverse stick on the snare to control and emphasize the slow and meaningful 4/4 tempo. The strong and righteous vocal is sung with a sense of purpose and deep meaning. The ensemble is delicate and the musical treatment is reserved. Ray Parker Jr. solos on his Les Paul and his playing is excellent. His choice of notes and melodic phrasing clearly shows his superior ability on his instrument.

       At 9:53 P.M. The Crusaders begin, “Streetlife.” This song showcases Randy Crawford on her historic featured vocal with this band, on the album of the same name. This rendition is absolutely amazing! Joe comps the changes as Wilton plays the famous tenor intro. Randy belts out the lyrics and the audience claps enthusiastically. This is definitely ‘goose bump’ time. The tempo is solid and confident and the changes are perfect. This is ALL GROOVE. The band is full and the vocal is huge. Joe’s piano solo is excellent. He starts off playful and consonant, then includes some dissonant passing tones building up to wild melodic flourishes and crescendos. Wilton Felder plays the melody then wails some very emotional high notes. This soulful rendition is genuinely close to the original. Drummer, Kendrick Scott, strikes the crown of the ride cymbal for additional dramatic percussive effect.

       The next tune, “Always Remember,” is a slow ballad. Randy is a standout on vocals. The band is demure and subdued and remains quieted and strictly in the background. The lead vocal is strong, passionate, meaningful and meticulous. The tenor sax solo is melancholy and heartfelt. Joe’s piano solo is well structured, articulate and enunciates the utmost musical clarity. “Put It Where You Want It,” is the encore. The audience would not relent until The Crusaders came back out for one more. Ray Parker Jr. is featured on guitar. The tenor solo is powerful and gutsy. Wilton starts slow, and then builds to emotional high note crescendos. He wails the high notes with dramatic and emphatically stated vibrato.

       Ray Parker Jr. pays tribute to The Crusaders. He always respected and admired the band and is honored to play with them. He goes into his signature song, “Who Ya’ Gonna’ Call,” from the film Ghostbusters. He plays tremendously and leads the band through an excellent rendition of this music.

       The Crusaders put on a fantastic show tonight. The original members, Joe Sample and Wilton Felder, truly shine brightly and refresh our memories of their musical genius. All the band members are excellent musicians. Randy Crawford is outstanding in her vocal magnificence and powerful demeanor. Ray Parker Jr. is a gleaming musical gem and really adds significantly to this all-star line up of musicians. What a tremendous experience!    

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A.J. Alfaro