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Nic Allen invokes Joe Sample’s hilarious bluntness when he recalls that the legendary pianist basically coined two phrases for RADS Krusaders which have guided the quintet ever since: “I need you all with the Crusaders groove, and do not F*** up my groove”. On Going Way Back Home, the group’s first album since Sample’s passing, they honor their mentor’s request, keeping the Crusaders’ influence prominent while developing their own fresh approach to contemporary jazz. Their first album was titled In Session because it was more of an exploration of what they could do with the groove; this one acknowledges, as one of the titles says, that they have “Big Shoes to Walk In,” and they fill them with great chops, rich melodies and harmonies and of course, intensely cool, often swinging rhythms.
The opening track “Crusaders Overture” is a medley of a spoken word mission statement (“Let’s go Krusaders!”) and artfully quoting musical passages from the Crusaders’ classics “Cosmic Reign,” “Way Back Home” and “Street Life.” “Big Shoes…” offers an easy swinging trombone and sax blending to create a silky melody that soars over jangling guitars and a deeply percussive groove. Named for Sample’s initials, “JLS” is a direct tribute starting with a mystical musical intro and spoken word poetry about a fancy dance about music; it evolves into a slow burning ballad with intense electric guitar jamming and tight horns. The sultry vocal ballad “Universal Pain” shows of RADS’ ample vocal talents in an anthem setting reminiscent of the Crusaders’ socially conscious anthems. Veteran Houston based pianist and longtime Sample associate Skip Nalia tackles the stunning piano melodies on two of the album’s jazziest tracks, “Off Shore” (which moves from ambient to swinging) and “Far From Home,” which swings from the get go and features some of Owens’ and Scurlock’s most dynamic sax-trombone interactions.
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