In 1971, the Jazz Crusaders reinvented themselves for the first time. First they dropped the word “jazz” from their moniker, and secondly they wholeheartedly embraced electric bass and guitars in their mix. Their new “debut” is a wonder of jazz-funk as a natural evolution out of hard bop and soul-jazz. While the wonderful horn interplay between saxophonist Wilton Felder and trombonist Wayne Henderson is still everywhere evident, the badass, beat-driven rhythm section has Joe Sample playing funky Rhodes piano against Chuck Rainey’s basslines and an orgy of guitars — led by Larry Carlton’s brilliant lead work. These are all anchored by Stix Hooper’s never out-of-the-pocket, popping kit work. Certainly other acts had used the same instrumentation, but the sheer sophistication in the Crusaders compositions and charts combined with their dedication to grooved-out accessibility — and Stewart Levine’s magnificent production — made them a singular entity even in the up-and-coming jazz-rock fusion scene. Released as a double LP, the set offered all dimensions of the Crusaders and their new filled-out sound. From the driven riffing of Felder’s “That’s How I Feel” that features all three guitarists in overdrive, to the strutting, tough groove of Sample’s “Put It Where You Want It,” to the nocturnal harmonics of Henderson’s “Mystique Blues” with punched-up horns and shimmering wah-wah from Carlton, to the exploding grit of his “Mud Hole,” the band is in amazing form. The sound here is the place where the beat meets the street meets the stage in an urban jazz club. But the real prize on this set is the nearly 13-minute exploration of Carole King’s “So Far Away” that became a staple of the group’s live set. Here the sheer elegance and grace of the Crusaders’ “singing” lyrical approach is so transcendent that FM rock and soul stations were playing it as a single! Henderson and Felder croon in unison and offer different sides of themselves as soloists, each man letting his break drip with a sexy tenderness that is never saccharine. Sample and Hooper trot out the colors and textures, and playing around the horns, they offer the tune as a kind of lover’s dance with enough sass to keep it grooving while never overpowering the gorgeous melodics at the center. Carlton fills the middle with fat chords and single-string runs that made the entire thing soar. The Crusaders were onto something here and set themselves a new watermark, carving out a place for themselves in the new decade, and it turns out for posterity.