By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer
If you need a man to breathe some life into a smooth-jazz show, who you gonna call?
After 20 years, Sample and Wilton Felder are once again touring as the Crusaders, the Los Angeles-based smooth-jazz pioneers best known for the 1970s hit "Street Life."
The tour came to the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering Saturday night, and Sample, Felder, and the new edition of the Crusaders - including singer-guitarist Ray Parker Jr. - played to a large crowd of 3,564.
The instrumental selections were as good as smooth jazz can be. Sample is a renowned keyboardist, and Felder's measured saxophone honking brought several rounds of applause. Parker broke off a few memorable guitar melodies, and each of the new guys was a very good player.
But, in the end, it was smooth jazz, which means that even at its best it can be nothing more than the world's most exquisite background music.
Sample's presence made this 90-minute performance a little better.
It had nothing to do with his playing. Instead, his wry storytelling between songs beat any Crusaders song.
He reminisced about coming to Ohio for gigs in the '70s. At that time, he said he observed, "White folks and black folks in Ohio listen to the same damn music. What the hell is going on around here?"
Sample spoke of a long-ago L.A. session date when he was promised a man named Joe was on his way to pay him. After three hours, Joe hadn't shown, and Sample was preparing to hunt down this man without a last name.
Finally, Joe showed up, and Sample backed down, because Joe was boxer Joe Louis.
Sample and the band then softly struck up the early Crusaders song "A Ballad for Joe."
Parker stepped forward to sing his most famous song, "Ghostbusters." He instructed the crowd to answer his musical question "Who you gonna call?" not with "Ghostbusters" but instead with - duh - "Crusaders."
Due to injury, guest vocalist Randy Crawford did not perform. Ticket holders had the opportunity to get refunds, and about 12 people did, according to a Fraze representative.
A relative of Parker, Letitia Body, took Crawford's place as vocalist on "Street Life."
Saxophone player David Sanborn opened the show with a set heavy on songs from a new album, including renditions of "Tequila" and Joni Mitchell's "Man from Mars."
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