As a co-founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, Philip Bailey has spent much of his career in the verdant delta where jazz flows into R&B writ large, with an acclaimed sojourn into the tributary waters of gospel music. On his latest project, Love Will Find a Way, his falsetto has lost none of its sweet tone and effortless heavenly trajectory. It’s his first new solo album since 2002’s excellent Soul on Jazz, and while not quite living up to that standard, Bailey sounds energized by the contributions of 21st-century jazz players steeped in the EWF catalog like bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Kendrick Scott, and keyboardist Robert Glasper.
They all play on the opening track, Curtis Mayfield’s “Billy Jack,” one of several tributes to fallen comrades. The well-traveled keyboardist Herman Jackson is responsible for most of the arrangements, and he effectively deploys an expansive array of players. His version of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” transforms the song’s twitchy angst into slow-jam contemplation with Bailey reciting most of the lyrics.
There’s some filler on the album. Christian Scott’s trumpet adds a jolt of energy to the otherwise forgettable “Stairway to the Stars” by Bailey, Scott, Will.i.am, and Christian McBride, and aside from some captivating drum work by Kendrick Scott on “Sacred Sounds,” the eight-minute tune quickly wears out its welcome. The album’s best track is a sleekly funky version of “Long as You’re Living” propelled by McBride’s fat-bottomed bass. Or maybe it’s the Return to Forever anthem “You’re Everything” featuring Chick Corea and Steve Gadd’s Chinese Butterfly band.
The album closes with the title track, a condensed version of the Pharoah Sanders meditation pairing Bailey’s soaring falsetto with Casey Benjamin’s vocoder and saxophone. Amid a resurgence of the spiritual jazz sound, Bailey offers a welcome reminder that the L.A.-based EWF played a vital role in its creation.