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Philip Bailey: Soul on Jazz

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This new solo effort from Earth, Wind and Fire’s estimable frontman should really be called Soul on the Periphery of Jazz. Like a martini so dry that the vermouth is barely detectable, Bailey’s latest is pure soul infused with just a hint of jazz. He is, indeed, about as much a jazz singer as Diana Ross. Not that it really matters. For, unlike the oft-misguided Ross, Bailey is blessed with impeccable taste and superb musical instincts. The tremendously high standards that have defined his three-decade association with EWF are evident throughout Soul on Jazz.

Reinterpreting jazz treasures both familiar and lesser-known, he moves from triumph to triumph. There is, for instance, Bailey’s impressive treatment of “Nature Boy.” At the risk of heresy, I’ll confess I like it even better than Nat Cole’s and find it more fully in sync with Eden Ahbez’s ethereal lyrics. Equally impressive is his heartbreakingly beautiful rendering of Monk’s “Dear Ruby” and a first-rate reading of Chick Corea’s spirited “Sometime Ago,” plus an appropriately dreamy adaptation of Herbie and Jean Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.” Best of all, though, is Bailey’s gritty rendition of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” where he allows that angelic voice of his to get just a little dirty. The results are satisfyingly steamy.

Kudos, too, to Bailey’s lyricist son, Sir Bailey, who provides dad with a fun little number called “Bop-Skip-Doodle” that’s as bright and breezy as a Britney Spears chart-topper.