Few of the big jazz orchestras that played the black dance music of the swing era are still together anymore. But last night at the Capital Centre Earth, Wind & Fire applied the lessons of those big bands to the electric funk that is the black dance music of today. The 16-person ensemble provided a wide array of textures that leader Maurice White wove like a Count Basie or a Lionel Hampton of the boogie era.
The show began late and then got off to a slow start with long boogie instrumentals apparently designed to show off their flashy pyramid stage set, tacky costumes and ragged Motown choreography. But once they got down to business, they played with the imagination and discipline it takes to make a big band work. Larry Dunn's solos, though, were closer to Herbie Hancock's synthesizer than to Basie's ivories, and Al McKay's electric guitar solos had a definite Santana rock n' roll flavor.
"Star" was typical in its multiplication of textures. Rahmlee Michael Davis' modal trumpet improvisation continued full blast while the falsetto harmonies and bouncy horn lines returned. The highlight on many songs was the dueting between Maurice White's deep, resonant voice and Philip Bailey's laser-sharp falsetto. On the group's latest hit, "After the Love Is Gone," the duet gave way to fourpart vocal harmonies and then a lyrical bebop solo by saxophonist Don Myrick. May songs -- such as "That's The Way of The World," which White described as "our national anthem" -- were given new and expanded solos and vocal arrangements for the live show.
Earth Wind & Fire returns to the Capital Centre tonight.