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The Crusaders: Live at Montreux 2003

The Crusaders haven’t been a commercial (or, arguably, artistic) force in a quarter-century, and only two original members, keyboardist Joe Sample and saxophonist Wilton Felder, were still onboard at the time of this 2003 gig. But little about the group had changed since its ’70s heyday, and that seemed just fine with the Montreux audience. Touring behind their then-recent album Rural Renewal, the Crusaders still walked a fine and satisfying line between the smooth-jazz and light funk that catapulted them into the mainstream once they abbreviated their name from Jazz Crusaders.

Sample and Felder are fine musicians, no denying that. Although there is a decided lack of edge to their playing, it’s robust and they run a tight ship: the lineup for this show, which included Ray Parker Jr. (of “Ghostbusters” fame) on guitar, Stephan Baxter on trombone, Kendrick Scott on drums and Freddie Washington on bass, finds a non-challenging groove early and stays with it. On “Creepin’,” a ballad from Rural Renewal, Sample’s Fender Rhodes work is gutsy and bluesy and both Felder and Baxter turn in strong, meaty solos. “Put It Where You Want It,” a mid-tempo Stax-like R&B jam, is the first of the night that kicks up any dust: Felder is wailing, but Parker, on his first real showcase solo, only demonstrates that he’s no innovator.

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