N 2 The Journey, the new CD by the Larry Dunn Orchestra, has Earth, Wind & Fire’s DNA all over it. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear the horns that were a signature part of the EW&F sound back in the band’s 1974-1984 salad days. The record includes two men who helped make that horn section famous : saxophonist and flutist Ronnie Laws, who joined the band in 1972 and remained with EW&F through the Last Days In Time album, and trumpeter Rahmlee Davis who played on the great albums of the 1970s as a member of the Phenix Horns.
N 2 The Journey also makes numerous nods to the jazz roots of EW&F founder, Maurice White. While Dunn contributes his trademark creativity on the keyboards, piano, B 3 organ and synthesizer, he also employs the Kalimba, the Sub Saharan Africa instrument that Maurice White used on several Earth, Wind & Fire albums.
Dunn’s frequent use of the Kalimba on N 2 The Journey is instructive because it serves as a reminder that the EW&F sound was always rooted in the music of Africa and the African Diaspora. Earth, Wind & Fire was instrumental in making clear the debt that western pop music owed to Africa. Dunn uses N 2 The Journey to show the impact that his immersion in world music had and continues to have on his artistry.
The instrumental track “Morning Sun” sports a percussive sound that merges Africa with the Caribbean, while another instrumental, “Brother To Brother,” is a fusion of Caribbean steel drums and jazz.
The classic Earth, Wind & Fire sound relied on a fusion of jazz with pop and R&B, strong lead vocals and tight harmonies. Perhaps example of this fusion on N 2 The Journey is Dunn’s remake of Swing Out Sister’s “Twilight World.” Luisa Dunn, Larry Dunn’s wife, provides the vocals on this track, which is a relatively faithful cover of Swing Out Sister’s 1988 original. Yet Dunn’s version of the tune features some signature EW&F tempo changes and a foray into jazz that allows Dunn to improvise on the keyboard.
The wedding song “Finally” is the prototypical Earth, Wind & Fire ballad with Beloyd Taylor providing the assertive vocals that historically were the stock and trade of Maurice White.
N 2 The Journey also includes an instrumental version of “Reasons”, one of Earth, Wind & Fire’s most beloved and covered songs. Dunn’s version of the tune is one of N 2 The Journey’s few disappointments because he pretty much gives the kind of by-the-books rendition we could have received from any smooth jazz artist. I would have hoped that a man who helped make “Reasons” such as revered tune would have treated the song a little less reverentially. He certainly is capable of mashing up a beloved EW&F song and turning it into something new - as witnessed by his work on the title track. The bass line on “N 2 The Journey” is more than just a passing homage to “Let’s Groove.” From that bass line, Dunn goes on to create a jazz fusion jam session featuring Laws’ creative flights of fancy on flute and sax and Dunn channeling Jack McDuff on the electric organ.
Taken as a whole, N 2 The Journey will remind longtime EW&F fans (and I count myself as one) of what we loved about the group and its music. The record gives us an opportunity to remember that EW&F was more than an R&B band or a funk band or even a pop band. The Larry Dunn Orchestra and N 2 The Journey serve as powerful reminders that EW&F was a world music band, and that each member who passes through the group is a musical citizen of the world. Recommended
By Howard Dukes