The Crusaders – Look Beyond the Hill

Known originally as The Jazz Crusaders, The Crusaders rose from the ashes of Houston-area jazz groups which disbanded in the early 1960s. Shortening the name upon moving to Los Angeles around 1970, the original lineup of Joe Sample (piano), Stix Hooper (drums), Wilton Felder (saxophone), and Wayne Henderson (trombone) were soon joined by guitarist Larry Carlton and bassist Robert “Pops” Popwell. This would remain the core of the group throughout the 1970s, which was the groups most prolific and commercially successful period. The title track from their 1979 album Street Life reached #36 on the Billboard charts and is just an absolute jam. Henderson left the group in 1975 to focus on producing records full-time and and the group had all but disbanded by the mid-1980s.

Look Beyond the Hill was written by Wilton Felder, who played bass and marimba on the record in addition to saxophone. Felder was also a studio musician and his bass can be heard on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On, Billy Joel’s Piano Man, and Steely Dan’s Rikki Don’t Lose That Number to name a few. The group did put together a reunion tour of the founding members (minus Stix Hooper) in 2010. The group left behind a mountain of music to sift through so I can’t telly you where to start, but I can certainly recommend this album as a good place to start.

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Mike Mandel – Elephant and Castle

I came upon this release by way of Gil Scott-Heron’s studio debut Pieces of a Man, which features guitarist Burt Jones backing Scott-Heron and the solo on Elephant and Castle. In addition to solo work, Mike Mandel was a keyboardist for the jazz fusion-type groups The Players Association and The Eleventh Hour. Elephant and Castle appears on a Sky Music from 1978 and features many of the same artists from both groups. Admittedly this sort of music is out of my wheelhouse and if you find yourself getting bored I just challenge you to listen until at least the 3 minute mark and if you’re not bobbing your head/tapping your feet/doing some other form of white guy dancing, I’ll owe you something. Not money, of course, but some sort of non-exchangeable favor maybe. If it happens, just talk to my team of high-priced lawyers and we can work something out.