The Crusaders

Live at Montreux 2003

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Only pianist Joe Sample and reedman Wilton Felder remain from the original outfit formed in the early '60s. But this is still a vibrant act that, while perhaps not as hot as in its '80s prime with trombonist Wayne Henderson, remains a sharp, funky fusion machine. The six-piece is captured on tour behind 2002's strong comeback set Rural Renewal (three of the disc's selections are reprised) that also included original drummer Stix Hooper who is sadly M.I.A. here, but they are still in fighting form. Sample plays MC, introducing each song and providing interesting background information. Although it interrupts the flow somewhat, his stories are classy and heartfelt. Trombonist Steve Baxter is a highlight of this touring band, even though all the members are strong and fall naturally into the Crusaders' distinctive pocket. Guitar duties are handled by Ray Parker, Jr. who doesn't look a minute older than in his Raydio days, even if he's no Larry Carlton; he stays predominantly in the background, taking only a few solos until stepping out front for "Put it Where You Want It" and the rollicking "Ghostbusters" finale. Sample is in exceptional form, playing the same old Fender Rhodes piano he did three decades earlier. Drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Freddy Washington may be along just for this tour, but they slot easily into the Crusaders' trademarked pop/funk/jazz vibe. Singer Randy Crawford appears for four songs and pretty much steals the show. Her energy and bubbly personality on B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" (the Crusaders assisted on King's 1978 Midnight Believer and 1979 Take It Home albums), is contagious. She stands in for Bill Withers on "Soul Shadows" and tears into the classic "Street Life" as if she hadn't been singing it for the past 15 years. She's having a blast and her jazz/gospel/pop phrasing perfectly complements the band. Even an inexplicable cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" fits seamlessly into the set. The surround audio (DTS and 5.1) is full and clean, the camera work is nearly flawless, the lighting unobtrusive yet dramatic, and the production values are polished without being slick. This is a pretty great souvenir of a group that, while not as crucial or greasy as back in the day, still delivers a terrific show and better yet, seems to love doing it.