Sunday was a lovely day in Melbourne. A little early haze then some Spring sunshine. We played family football in the park – soccer and Aussie rules as befits a child of mixed parentage – then back home for lunch on the back veranda. For the first time since Winter, I opened the window and put on a CD to accompany the meal. The Crusaders 1972 album, simply entitled I. Can’t think of a better Spring soundtrack than the jazz funk of The Crusaders.
So it was a sad surprise to learn that Joe Sample, pianist and keyboard player with the band and veteran solo recording artist, had died the same weekend aged 75.
The Jazz Crusaders formed in the late 50s and produced a slew of albums throughout the following decade before transmogrifying into their more funky incarnation in 1971 when Pass the Plate, a very enjoyable transitional album, was released.
In 1969, not that long before they dropped the ‘Jazz’ from their name, Joe Sample released a trio album called Fancy Dance. It is an engaging and cautiously adventurous straight-ahead jazz set consisting of six Sample originals that are delivered with quiet assertiveness and engaging energy.
But it is for the swinging, funky jazz-rock fusion of The Crusaders that most people will know Joe Sample. With bandmates Wilton Felder (Tenor), Wayne Henderson (Trombone) and Stix Hooper (Drums) he formed the nucleus of a band that engaged both jazz and rock audiences with its infectious jazz funk. The presence of guitarist Larry Carlton on several early 70s albums adds fabulous bite and spark.
Although they had a (surprise) hit with the Randy Crawford vocal track “Streetlife” on the 1979 album of the same name, perhaps their artistic peak was 1976s Free as the Wind. Along with I, it is Allmusic’s album pick and who am I to disagree? It was the first Crusaders album I owned and I still find it uplifting, positive and soul-nourishing. And Larry Carlton is terrific.
After that consistently swinging and funky triumph, it did become a case of diminishing returns, not assisted by trying to court a club-funk-dance market for which they were, frankly, not especially suited.
As for Joe Sample, he continued to collaborate and record right up to 2013. His list of ‘partner’ artists is impressive indeed: Marvin Gaye, BB King, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and more. The only later work in the Vinyl Connection Collection is Old Places Old Faces from 1995, a jazz set that is as classy and accomplished as you would expect, if not particularly demanding.
And so another great artist checks into the great Jazz Club in the sky.
The eagle-eyed will have spotted the tell-tale upper-left-hand-corner disfiguration that signify a JB Hi-Fi 80s purchase, as described in the recent post JB You’ve Done It Again!