Earth Wind and Wonder Vol.2
Creative Perspective Music
Saxophonist, composer and arranger Don Braden encores his 2018 initial rendering of the songs of Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder with Earth Wind and Wonder Volume 2. Braden’s imaginative arrangements make these tunes surprisingly enjoyable in a jazz context; thankfully they stay far away from smooth jazz, which often plagues this kind of repertoire. Likewise, Braden’s cohorts on this journey are straight ahead players. Braden can be heard on tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute. Joining him are Art Hirahara and Miki Hayama on piano and keyboard, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Jeremy Warren and percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell. Summed up succinctly, Braden says, “We are definitely pushing for the next level of true jazz energy in the performances: more swing, creativity and connection to jazz’s African American roots.” The mix has four Wonder tunes, three from EWF, and two Braden originals.
EWF’s mellow “In the Stone” opens, a cross between a lively jazz swing and jazz-samba with Braden on tenor and Hirahara’s glistening piano as Kahlil Kwame Bell adds the percussion. “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” follows, with Braden citing Elvin Jones on the arrangement where pianist Hayama leads the rhythm section in support of Braden’s ardent tenor. EWF’s “Reasons” is another vehicle for Braden’s fervent tenor and again it’s Hayama, this time on piano and keys, swinging hard along with Kenny Davis who takes a sturdy pizzicato turn.
“Profusion” is the first of two Braden originals. It’s close to a contrafact, blending “Contusion” and in the triad motion “Too High,” a strong Wonder fusion piece rendered here by Hirahara on piano and Hayama on keys marked by more of Braden’s locomotive blowing and Davis’s sturdy bass line in 7/4 time. Braden repurposes his second original, “Arise,” which first appeared on his Contemporary Standards Ensemble (2000). Here he’s inspired by EWF and engages in convivial interplay with drummer Warren.
Wonder’s “Send One Your Love” offers a calm respite after “Profusion” and casts the quartet in a tender, sensitive context, where both the warm, smoky tones of Braden’s tenor and Hirahara’s sparking piano are the perfect balm. Braden renders the other two Wonder tunes on flute, and both emanate from the composer’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale: transforming “Bird of Beauty” into a gorgeous jazz waltz on concert flute, leaving space for a tender solo from Hayama. On “Creepin’” he takes to the alto flute and gets support from Hayama on both piano and keys while Kwame Bell’s udu and other percussion brighten the melancholy tune that Braden originally rendered on tenor on his After Dark (1998). Braden returns to his soulful tenor on the EWF closer, “That’s the Way of the World” where Hirahara steers the rhythm section through some tricky start-stop rhythms.
Braden and his ensemble swing hard through these nine selections, applying authentic jazz to the originals and nary a hint of smooth jazz or overtly commercial gestures. Call it 21st Century soul-jazz. As it should be. Amen.
- Jim Hynes
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