Picks and Pans Review: Ghetto Blaster
This album marks a changing of the guard for the Crusaders, with Leon "Ndugu" Chancier replacing Stix Hooper on drums. That leaves only two charter members, Wilton Felder on sax and bass and Joe Sample on keyboards, as the nucleus of the prolific 34-year-old jazz institution. But Ghetto Blaster is solid proof that the Crusaders haven't mislaid their unique gift for fusing jazz, R&B and pop into polished, spirited tunes. Chancier, who played drums for eight years with George Duke and was the session man on Michael Jackson's Thriller LP, is no slouch; on Zalal'e Mini (Take It Easy), for example, he subtly shifts the emphasis on the snare drum throughout the song, with marvelous effect. On sax, Felder never sounded better; he tears into Dead End and Zalal'e Mini with all the verve and fluency of Grover Washington Jr. Only Sample misses. On other Crusader recordings and his own exquisite solo albums, Sample is a lush keyboardist, with great emotional depth. Here his playing is often too airy, as if he had been taking Ahmad Jamal pills. Four of the songs on this LP feature vocals by Jessica Williams and Gwen Evans, but the Crusaders are still the most fun when they let their instruments do the talking, as on Mr. Cool. If the Crusaders at times sound too slick, almost laminated, it's amazing that they still make it seem so easy to sound so good. (MCA)
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