Friday, 29 August 2008

"Gold" by THE CRUSADERS (2007 Hip-O Select/Verve 2CD Set - Gavin Lurssen Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…Freedom Sound…"

What a total winner this double-CD set in Universal's "Gold" Series is - and if ever a band deserved recognition - it's the Soul-Funk-Jazz-Fusion band THE CRUSADERS. There's a wad of detail to get through…so...

(Formerly known as The Jazz Crusaders) THE CRUSADERS are:
JOE SAMPLE – Keyboards
WILTON FELDER – Tenor Saxophone
NESBERT “STIX” HOOPER – Drums & Percussion

This hugely revered American band has used many session men throughout the years but two stick out as practically the fifth and sixth member of the group – they are LARRY CARLTON on Guitar with ROBERT “POPS” POPWELL on Bass. It should also be noted that both ARTHUR ADAMS and DEAN PARKS have contributed superb guitar work too (featured a lot in the highly creative late 70’s period).

Initially released in the USA only in October 2007 as a 2CD set (it’s subsequently been given a UK release) - "Gold" by THE CRUSADERS on Hip-O/Verve B0008268-02 (Barcode 602517184053) breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (79:54 minutes):
1:  Freedom Sound (a Joe Sample song from “Unsung Heroes”, 1973 on Blue Thumb)
2:  Young Rabbits – ’71-’72 (a Wayne Henderson song from “Pass The Plate”, 1971 on Chisa, credited as The Jazz Crusaders)
3:  Way Back Home (a Wilton Felder song from “Old Socks, New Shoes…New Socks, Old Shoes”, 1970 on Chisa)
4:  Put It Where You Want It (a Joe Sample song from “Crusaders 1”, a 2LP set, 1972 on Blue Thumb)
5:  So Far Away (Single Version) (a cover of a song from Carole King’s “Tapestry” album, on “Crusaders 1”, a 2LP set, 1972 on Blue Thumb)
6:  Tough Talk (a Joe Sample/Wayne Henderson song from “The 2nd Crusade”, a 2LP set, 1973 on Blue Thumb)
7:  Don’t Let It Get You Down (a Joe Sample song from “The 2nd Crusade”, a 2LP set, 1973 on Blue Thumb)
8:  Scratch (a Wayne Henderson song)
9:  Hard Times (written by Paul F. Mitchell, it was a hit for David Newman in 1960; 8 and 9 are from “Scratch: Recorded Live At The Roxy”, a 2LP set, 1974 on Blue Thumb)
10:  Stomp & Buck Dance (a Wayne Henderson song)
11:  Lillies Of The Nile (a Wilton Felder song)
12:  Double Bubble (a Joe Sample song)
13:  A Ballad For Joe (Louis) (a Joe Sample song, 10 to 13 are from “Southern Comfort”, 1974 on Blue Thumb)
14:  I Felt The Love (a Stix Hooper song)
15:  Creole (a Wilton Felder song)
16:  Chain Reaction (a Joe Sample song, 14 to 16 from “Chain Reaction”, 1975 on Blue Thumb)

Disc 2 (79:53 minutes):
1:  Spiral (a Joe Sample song)
2:  Keep That Same Old Feeling (a Wayne Henderson song, 1 and 2 are from “Those Southern Knights”, 1976 on Blue Thumb)
3:  Free as The Wind (a Joe Sample song)
4:  Nite Crawler (a Larry Carlton song)
5:  Sweet ‘N Sour (a Joe Sample song)
6:  It Happens Everyday (a Joe Sample song)
7:  Feel It (Stix Hooper, Wilton Felder, Larry Carlton, Robert Popwell and Lamont Dozier song, 3 to 7 from “Free As The Wind”, 1977 on Blue Thumb)
8:  Snowflake (a Joe Sample song)
9:  Fairy Tales (a Joe Sample song, 8 and 9 from “Images”, 1978 on Blue Thumb)
10:  Street Life (Promotional 12” Single Version) (a Joe Sample/Will Jennings song) (guest vocals by RANDY CRAWFORD) (the full album version is on “Street Life”, 1979 on MCA)
11:  Soul Shadows (Edited Album Version) (guest vocals by BILL WITHERS) (a Joe Sample/Will Jennings song)
12:  Last Call (a Joe Sample song) (11 and 12 are from “Rhapsody & Blues”, 1980 on MCA)
13:  I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today (guest vocals by JOE COCKER) (a Joe Sample/Will Jennings song) (from “Standing Tall”, 1981 on MCA)
14:  Hold On (Live) (guest vocals by B.B. KING (a Joe Sample/Will Jennings song, from “The Crusaders with B.B. King and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Royal Jam”, 1982 on MCA)

The original master tapes were researched by RANDY ARONSON and mastered for CD by GAVIN LURSSEN at Lurssen Mastering in Hollywood, CA. The first few tracks do have some hiss on them that’s noticeable but it’s nothing too bad to detract. From about 1972 onwards that earlier hiss all but disappears and into the late 70’s - the production values are fantastic. Most of the albums featured on this set were put out by Blue Thumb Records in the USA (ABC in the UK on the later issues) until they moved to MCA in 1979. And as you can see each CD is stretched to the maximum playing time thereby provided the best value for money. The 12-page booklet has a basic essay on the band’s history by Michael A Gonzales (American Music Reviewer) and detailed discography info on each track.

But better than all that is the STUNNING AUDIO QUALITY – it literally explodes out the speakers on every track – especially the rhythm section of Hooper and Popwell. I mention the sound because having been hugely disappointed by the half-assed 1980’s CD releases and then the 4CD Box Set “Way Back Home” from 1996 which was only mildly better in my opinion - it’s a genuine blast to announce that at last Universal has gotten its act together and given this great band’s catalogue the sonic overhaul they’ve long deserved. The sound quality is noticably better than all preceding issues.

My first introduction to The Crusaders was “Free As The Wind” from 1977 and it’s thrilling to see 5 of its 8 tracks represented here in astonishingly clear sound – I’ve played this funky soulful masterpiece to death for over 30 years now. What strikes you most as you listen to the songs is the rhythm section - both Hooper and Popwell as tight as a nun’s knickers in the Vatican. The blissfully slinky “Nite Crawler” is a highlight too, but best of all is the near 9 minute funky workout that is “Sweet ‘N Sour” – astonishing stuff. Towards the end of Disc 2 we get the duet vocals, the only clinker being the truly awful “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here” with Will Jennings’ worst lyrics ever (among many). A nice touch is the inclusion of the 12” promotional version of “Street Life” which is shorter than the near 12 minute album version, but longer than the 4 minutes single edit – I think this is a first for this version on any CD anywhere. There are so many highlights on here...I'll leave them for you to discover...

Initially upward to eighteen quid when it came out - in 2014 this 2CD set can now be bought for six and less. A superlative reissue – buy it with confidence. And roll on the solo stuff on another 2CD set.

PS: For those wishing to explore more of the Crusaders - I cannot recommend enough the first solo album by JOE SAMPLE called “Rainbow Seeker” (from 1978). There’s a Blue Thumb/GRP CD of it issued in 1996 with very nice sound. “Rainbow Seeker” features Stix Hooper on Drums, Dean Parks and Ray Parker on Guitars with Pops Popwell on Bass. It’s an absolute peach of a piano-based jazz funk record – well worth your seeking out...

PPS: see my reviews for other Crusaders CDs - "Pass The Plate", "Images", "Old Socks, New Shoes...", "Free As The Wind" and more...

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