By Danny R. Johnson – Jazz and Pop Music Critic
NEW YORK, NY – Since its creation in 1970 by the late song stylist, musical bandleader, singer, composer, and virtuoso artist, Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire — whose many hits included “Shining Star,” “September,” “That’s the Way of the World” and a cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life.” — had a sound that was rooted in rhythm and blues but crossed musical boundaries, attracting an audience that was as diverse racially as the music was stylistically.
When a 21 year-old singer and percussionist by the name of Philip Bailey from Denver, Colorado joined Earth, Wind & Fire in 1972; this was the coming of age for a young artist who always knew where he stood with his music and never wavered. Between 1972 and 2019 Bailey has recorded hundreds of songs and albums with the legendary band and as a solo artist and shared in the jubilation of winning GRAMMY Awards, induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Vocal Group Hall of Fame, The Songwriters Hall of Fame and the recipient of numerous of other music awards; and he seemed the most providential of singers.
If his early works established him as a catalyst, his own quietly methodical, impressively diverse records show him to be an unusual and capable leader. Bailey’s latest album to be released on June 21, 2019, on the Verve Records label, “Love Will Find A Way,” is a continuation of an uneven pattern, but there is a continuity to them. They act as a commentary on new directions the world is heading and organized to inspire his collaborators’ best work.
This is Bailey’s 12th solo album since his solo debut in 1983 with “Continuation,” which earned a No. 19 spot on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and the 1984 platinum follow-up “Chinese Wall,” produced by Phil Collins. From 1984 to 1991, he released four gospel albums, including the Grammy-winning “Triumph.” And in 1999, Bailey released “Dreams,” his first jazz album. His sophomore jazz album, which is also his last release from 2002, “Soul on Jazz” reached the 45th spot upon the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.
“Love Will Find A Way” is Bailey’s most satisfying yet, and one of the most entertaining of the summer. The qualities that define meaningful leadership are present throughout the album starting with the masterful artists assembled to perform are a who’s who in the jazz and pop music world. Along with trusted friends like bassist Christian McBride, the iconic jazz pianist Chick Corea and drum legend Steve Gadd, the album features several of the brightest contemporary lights in jazz, R&B, pop and more: keyboardist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, rapper, musician, and producer will.i.am, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, singer-songwriter Bilal, singer-saxophonist Casey Benjamin, guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Kendrick Scott, and bassist Derrick Hodge, among many others.
Take the classic tune “Billy Jack,” which was initially written and performed by Curtis Mayfield – this version is performed by Bailey on vocals and percussion and features Kendrick Scott on drums and Robert Glasper on keys. The composition and arrangements make strict demands on the musicians. “Billy Jack” is a soulful and funky sound that borders on a conflict between the will to freedom and the desire for discipline, and Bailey’s musical arrangements illuminate the musicians’ abilities.
One song I particularly enjoyed on this ten tracks album is “You’re My Everything.” And the reason being is we have the classic Bailey giving us so many musical linguistic climaxes accompanied with notes that are squeezed in and out of all kinds of kinky pentatonic places. Bailey renders this piece with such spirit and even with a quiet fury that will leave you in a state of ecstasy.
Bailey has proven again and again that you don’t have to compromise your integrity as an artist to remain relevant. His model of mixing genres-a little pop, a little folk, a whole lot of soul and funk-has become widely prevalent and successful. It is refreshing to note that Bailey’s singing remains inimitable; and the “Love Will Find A Way” album is an auditory balm in Gilead, a sound to heal a weary and troubling world.