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Earth, Wind And Fire

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At Pine Knob, August 8-9 Ten or twelve years ago the great AfroAmerican poet Ameer Baraka (then known as LeRoi Jones) predicted that the music of the future would be some form of mutation combining the funk-tional approach of James Brown with the spiritual disciplineand musical freedom- of Sun Ra aad nis Arkestra. "James Ra ... Sun Brown," the poet fantasized, would fuse the entircAfroAmerican musical tradition into one immensely popular body of music, making everything else on the set pale in comparison. Now, in 1976, the 12-piece fusión band from Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, has clearly emerged to fulfill "Roi J's prophecy" (to quote another Chicago musician, Joseph Jarman) by producing total excitement - through the presentation of its music. From the funky bottom of James Brown and hundreds of other soul bands to the space clarity of Sun Ra, touching all the stations in between and topping it all of with some of the sweetest R&B vocalizing you'll ever hear, Earth, Wind & Fire is a super-group musically as well as commercially. (Their last album sold over a million units to music lovers all over the world.) These twelve dynamic artists from Chicago literally attacked the comfortable, usually laid-back concert theater at Pine Knob August 8-9 and managed to créate a totally positive,extremely emotional reaction in the sold-out, perfectly integrated (5050 blackwhite) crowd that cam&4o see, and cheer, them. The. effect of all that tliey do is akin to religión: like their songs say, they are able to "open your eyes," "lift your spirits," "free your soul," and make you a devout believer in the power of music. Besides playing some ofihe warmest, most tasteful contemporary popular music there is, EWF has a complementary, intricately-choreographed visual program that is just as thrilling. Their spangled, cosmic, probably Sun Ra-inspired costumes generated sparks as they danced and played amidst colored lights, clouds of smoke and immense pyramidal structures that dominated the stage and helped give a mystical aura to the whole experience. Maurice White, formerly a drummer with Ramsey Lewis (among others), heads the group in a variety of artistic directions-writing and producing as well as leading some beautiful vocal arrangements. Philip Bailey is the other half of the vocal lead-his unforgettable trademark is the very moving falsetto work'on the heart-rending love song "Reasons." Also out front were bassist Verdine White and guitarists Al McKay and Johnny Graham, prancing in fancy costumes with futuristic, cordless instruments that put out their music via miniature radio transmitters. Filling out the stage (and the sound) were Andrew Woolfolk and Don Myrick on saxophones, Louis Satterfield on trombone, Michael Harris on trumpet, and (playing insicle the big pyramids) Fred White and Ralph Johnson on drums and Larry Dunn on multiple keyboards. EWF literally had the audience (and these reviewers) in the palms of their hands - generating intense energy all over the place with each and every song: Rappy, "party" numbers like "Celébrate" and "Yearnin' Learnin'," juke box hits like "Shining Star" and "Sing a Song," the funky "Gratitude," and touching deepdown message tunes like "Reasons," "Devotion," "Can 't Hide Love," and the epic "That's the Way of the World." No matter whaTwe say, it doesn't seem to be enough. Earth, Wind, & Fire have the hottest potential of any act in the music business today, and they're already very close to the top. Musically and artistically, they're already there, waiting for things to catch up with them. May they reign forever! (Note: We'd like to express our deepest sympathy and regrets over the loss of Charles Stepney, the highly-respected coproducer and arranger for Earth, Wind & Firejwho recently left the planet. Rest in peace, Brother Stepney.)