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Various Artists: Smooth Elements: Smooth Jazz Plays the Songs of Earth, Wind, and Fire

A compilation of previously issued covers rather than a unified “tribute album,” Smooth Elements: Smooth Jazz Plays the Songs of Earth, Wind & Fire (Shanachie 5036 57:33) at its best examines the fine melodic elements which made EW&F one of the most successful pop R&B acts of the ’70s, and at worst offers straightforward cover reads which are still diverting, if not particularly creative. Lumping artists as diverse as the group represented here as “smooth jazz” is in itself somewhat problematic…but, hey, it gave the concept producer a theme. With that said, many of the best offerings are reinventions-like Tuck Andress’ solo jaunt through “Getaway,” which captures the intricacy and warmth of EW&F’s familiar melodic motives-and Tom Grant and Peter White’s read of “Fantasy,” which reworks the huge R&B anthem as a light, meditative daydream. Less exciting is the goopy work of Kim Pensyl (“That’s the Way of the World”) and David Benoit & Russ Freeman (“After the Love Has Gone”-an even sappier read of an already sappy song), but hold on to your hats for John Tesh’s “September” (no, I’m not kidding). With a cast of all-star guests including Gerald Albright and harmonica virtuoso Tollack Ollestad, the Tesh-fronted ensemble smokes this big, loud tune which is sure to bring back great memories of one of the truly fun pop dance bands.

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