It's usual for the percussionists to be the most lyrical musicians in a band. But such was the case with the Crusaders last night at the Kennedy Center. Crusader drummer Nesbert "Stix" Hooper and guest percussionist Airto Moreira played intensely personal music in contrast to the pop-jazz formulas pursued by their four colleagues.
On one number, Hooper's mallets alternated booming beats and rustling rolls to create an expectant, ritualistic mood. Moreira joined in with bird whistles, bamboo sticks, chimes and primitive Brazilian chants. An ingenious system of lights at the base of the drums cast volcanic flashes of colored lights on the hall's three-story walls. The effect was not unlike the "Rites of Spring" section of "Fantasia."
Crusader keyboardist Joe Sample contributed some powerful moments when he played his melodic themes on acoustic piano. His electric keyboard accompaniment was more predictable. Crusader saxophonist Wilton Felder and guest guitarist Phil Upchurch played facile but essentially empty solos.
Singer Randy Crawford led the opening set with her own band and then joined the Crusaders in their set to recreate their hit single, "Street Life." She had a supple voice but her breathy style was a bit melodramatic.