Philip Bailey, the legendary falsetto voice of Earth, Wind & Fire certainly calls on some famous friends for his twelfth solo outing, Love Will Find A Way, but most of them are contemporary jazz cats. In the continuum of mashing R&B with jazz as rendered by jazz artists like Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and others, we can now add Bailey to that list, from the R&B side. Those three jazz artists are here along with bassist Christina McBride, pianist Chick Corea, Steve Gadd, rapper and producer will.i.am, singer and songwriter Bilal, singer-saxophonist Casey Benjamin, guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Kendrick Scott and bass Derrick Hodge. There are a few more too. This could be the most outstanding lineup of contemporary artists to grace one non-tribute album.
Bailey released his first jazz album, Dreams, in 1999 and his second , Soul on Jazz in 2002. So, while this may not mark a new direction for Bailey, he’s done his homework staying abreast of current sounds. He appeared on last year’s Chick Corea – Steve Gadd album Chinese Butterfly and has witnessed shows of Glasper and Washington. Bailey was attracted to these all-embracing jazz artists, saying, “I’d heard Rob Glasper was giving jazz a facelift,” commenting later not only on the progressive nature of the music but the crowd being hip, diverse, youthful and passionate. Bailey quickly recruited Glasper to play on and produce some tracks and Glasper became invaluable in many ways, not to mention recruiting the musicians.
Bailey made a point to catch Kamasi Washington’s set at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. This led to a meeting with Kamasi’s father, (the woodwinds player Rickey Washington). The two had known each other for years, went to the same church and Kamasi went to bible school with Bailey’s kids. Bailey adds, “Artists like Robert and Kamasi and Christina, they embrace the nuances of jazz and its historical value, but they’ve really infused the game with new possibilities, And I’ve been the recipient of that infusion.”
The album begins with the single/video “Billy Jack,” a West-African flavored take on the Curtis Mayfield tune. Mayfield may well be Bailey’s major falsetto influence. Bailey handles the vocals and percussion with Kendrick Scott on drums and Glasper on keys. Bailey returns the favor to Corea by singing on the jazz fusion Return to Forever classic “You’re Everything.” Bilal and Bailey team on vocals for Mayfield’s “We’re a Winner.” Then we begin to move even further away from R&B vocal turf into the mostly instrumental “Stairway to the Stars,” with will.i.am laying down a tribal drum beat in support of Christina Scott aTunde Adjuah’s distinctive soaring trumpet.
”Brooklyn Blues” begins with Bailey on kalimba, leading to an electronic ambiance that floats above contemporary jazz rhythms. Vocals re-emerge by way of Bailey’s spoken word take on the Talking Heads’ classic “Once In a Lifetime,” clearly a standout piece before Bailey delivers his classic falsetto in reverent tribute to his idol, Marvin Gaye, in “Just to Keep You Satisfied.” Washington’s soulful sax and Glasper’s shimmering keys imbue the ‘70s sounding “Sacred Sounds.” He turns to McBride for the funk in “Long As You’re Living” and to Casey Benjamin’s sax and vocoder in the Pharaoh Sanders penned title track.
This genre-bending effort, replete with these iconic names, is the kind of album that will deservedly earn Grammy attention. Kudos to Bailey for looking forward instead of back as so many of his contemporaries unfortunately do.