Music Sheet: "Devoted Spirits' Tribute To Earth Wind And Fire
   
 



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By
Jason Gewirtz

It's a weekday night at B.B. King's Blues Club in Los Angeles and the newly formed Devoted Spirits has the place packed.

But not everyone who's waiting on line knows what to expect inside.

One woman, nearing the front entrance, asks the employees by the door what the band is playing tonight.

"It's Earth, Wind and Fire-type music," comes the reply.

That musical description probably sounds about right to Larry Dunn, Sheldon Reynolds and Morris Pleasure.

As Devoted Spirits, the trio of former EWF members pays homage to the R&B supergroup on their new album "Tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire" (Thump Record) by taking some of the group's standard hits, as well as a few sleepers, along for a new ride.

Dunn, who was EWF's keyboardist and musical director from 1972 to 1983, concedes that he needed some convincing at first. Did the world need another EWF hits collection?

But "Tribute" is more than a compilation. With an emphasis on new arrangements and with guest appearances from saxophonists Gerald Albright and Ronnie Laws, drummer Ricky Lawson, guitarist Norman Brown, original EWF guitarist Johnny Graham and EWF founder Maurice White (who gave his blessing on the project), among others, the record is something entirely its own.

"It was really like a fresh, new approach to it," says the 51-year-old Dunn, his voice at once textured and smooth, just like his keyboard work. "When I heard the direction it was heading in, I said, "Hey, let's go.'"

Dunn, an East Denver native, joined EWF with fellow Denver native Philip Bailey after meeting White at the start of the group's ascent. He presided over the group's most successful run, gliding his fingers over hits like "That's the Way of the World," "After the Love is Gone," "Serpentine Fire" and "Fantasy " - each of which appears on "Tribute."

But the album offers some of the band's lesser recognized numbers, including the sublime "Sunshine," which gets a rap-intro infusion, "All About Love," and "See the Light." Reynolds, a guitarist-vocalist who spent 14 years with EWF and appears on each of the album's 22 tracks, also offers an original, "Rhythm of Love," that could easily fit into the EWF catalogue.

Dunn has remained a busy performer and producer, recently putting the finishing touches on a second solo project. And he and his wife recently recorded several jingles for Japanese markets, including two spots for Sapporo beer. They also cut a remake of Kool & The Gang's "Get Down On It"" for a Subaru commercial that airs in Japan.

But for now, he's devoted to Devoted Spirits.

"It would be nice to do a tour with this and do the major cities," Dunn says.

The group has played just a handful of live shows to date. But judging by the reaction of the Los Angeles crowd, which was teased with only an hour's performance, Devoted Spirits' new take on some old favorites certainly has an audience.

Grade: A+

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