Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Crusaders "Healing The Wounds" (1991)

The Crusaders solely shadows the good ol' days.

Joe Sample and his Jazz Crusaders started as friends in a band. In the 1960's, The Jazz Crusaders mirrored idols Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller and other ragtime and swing inspirations. They even wrote a song about it in 1980's Soul Shadows -- a band of jazz-funkers who slowly moved away from raw jazz of earlier recordings, before the advent of commercial fusion.

I had the pleasure of seeing the late Sample in concert by himself, expressing his direction to break free of The Crusaders in the late 70's to make Rainbow Seeker, then something intentionally different with Carmel based on his inspirational visit to the California getaway. Sample didn't dismiss nor disparage The Crusaders, instead was content in running his own show on the side and continued to play with them, on-and-off until his death in late 2014. 

After Sample hit it big with The (coveted) Hunter, the band's diverted attention from its captain of fingers coupled with the withering sound in the jazz-funk era a successfully developed solo career, The Crusaders had sort of been lost throughout the 80's, until GRP brought them into the 90's with Healing the Wounds.

Wait, this is The Crusaders?

Sample is by no means tired, in his early 70s, he lights up the stage with speed and finesse but maybe the band has out-lived its scope. While it says Crusaders on the cover, only Joe Sample and Wilton Felder return to supply the heritage Crusade: no Pops Popwell, Wayne Henderson (whose actually doing his own Next Crusade) or even the “fifth” Crusader, Larry Carlton at all. 

Sample, whose about as iconic for his Fender Rhodes as he is on the piano has traded the ol' electric piano for synthesizers. Marcus Miller takes over most composition and basses, with Michael Landau on guitars and even a dubious appearance by Toto's Steve Lukather on Stevie Wonder's Cause We've Ended As Lovers. Landau isn't given much room as Carlton once had, with Felder taking the stage alongside Sample. A lush backing of thick horns are now absent for layers of synth that often sound thin and tinny.

While not without an adaptable outcome, Healing the Wounds is undoubtedly lame, overly-relaxed and under inspired radio fuzak. Sure, it supplies the funk in places, but the soul of The Crusaders ain't here -- and it's no surprise seeing as Sample has employed a like lite-funk sound package on his releases around this time.

The bipolar Running Man sees Sample's spectral temperament on piano as well as Felder's use of conveyed moods by soprano and tenor saxes, while the like penned tailored-for-radio Healing the Wounds is memorable only because it sounds like an supermarket adaptation of Olivia Newton-John's Let's Get Physical. Pessimistism conveys more darker tones with contrast and another successful Sample composed contribution.

Marcus Miller's screamy, sax-fueled Maputo, which had previously been covered by Bob James & David Sanborn, comes off as a contemporary cheese as its best that worked better in the 80's. Slappin' bass sounds at home on Shake Song and a throwback from the old days but a flimsy, gimmicky redundant chorus by Felder's sax. 

The rest slip by as listenable background music even though Sample and his new Crusaders give stellar performances with Sample elegant as ever. But Healing the Wounds doesn't heal -- doesn't reunite Sample with Henderson or anyone but Felder, resulting in what sounds like another Sample solo album instead of a distinctive Crusaders recording. Like a bandage on a sore wound, only a small sample of the sweat and passion of those 70's recordings is present here, and it doesn't bridge as it should have with the soul of the band.


NOTABLE TRACKS: Running Man, Pessimisstism
NO Wayne Henderson, Pops Popwell or even Larry Carlton to remind us of The Crusaders sound, even just after Henderson left in the mid-70s.
MINE AS WELL just be billed as another Joe Sample album (of this era)

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