Take away the sinuous vocalastics of Philip Bailey and the rollicking bass lines of Verdine White and replace them with the consummate acuity and effortless poise of Cory Weeds on alto saxophone and the kinetics of Mike LeDonne’s Hammond B3 organ and you still have the many splendoured music of Earth Wind & Fire ebulliently deployed and uplifting on Let’s Groove . The saxophonist and the organist bring the music alive in a wholly new idiom, their airy nimbleness matched with a richness of sound that has all to do with the dynamic range and balance of both instrumentation – the atmospheric howl of woodwinds and the low growl of the Hammond – and ingenious reharmonisation of familiar repertoire from the iconic ensemble.
This is a disc that dazzles from start to finish. Passion and precision are one. The apogee is “Imagination”. Melodic lines are beautifully moulded, the return of the opening chords hushed, the climax gorgeous and the end subtly atmospheric. A close second would surely be “Kalimba” with its delicate ritenutos and bouncy finale. Listening to the rest of the music too, one is struck by the resonant Hammond B3 and How masterfully Mike LeDonne enables memorable listening by enhancing the tone-colour of the instrument to an almost orchestral level. The music’s harmonic boldness and astringency are thrown more vividly into high relief.
Cory Weeds is at the height of his powers, for combined tonal purity, shimmering intonation and phrasal intuitiveness. Clearly the saxophonist is caressing this music. Such is the tenderness with which he plays and the sensitive response to Mr LeDonne’s harmonies that it allows both musicians room to unfold their own expressive narratives. The result is remarkable playing from two virtuosos who give generously to this music and, as a result, create an iconic repertoire that exists on its own with devotedly inspired readings of music that was timeless to begin with.
And, to be fair, it’s not just from the alto saxophonist and the organist; there’s plenty of praiseworthy musicianship from Steve Kaldestad on tenor saxophone, guitarist Dave Sikula, drummer Jason Tiemann and guest percussionist Liam McDonald, all of whom contribute sterling performances to this project.
Track list – 1: Let’s Groove; 2: Getaway; 3: Devotion; 4: You and I; 5: The Way of the World; 6: Imagination; 7: Shining Star; 8: Kalimba; 9: After the Love Is Gone
Personnel – Cory Weeds: alto saxophone; Steve Kaldestad: tenor saxophone; Mike LeDonne: Hammond B3 organ; Dave Sikula: guitar; Jason Tiemann: drums; Liam MacDonald: percussion (2, 5, 6, 8)
Released – 2017
Label – Cellar Live
Runtime – 1:04:36