Love Will Find a Way, Philip Bailey’s 12th solo album, is his first since 2002, but in the intervening 17 years he hasn’t been coasting. He’s made four albums with Earth, Wind & Fire, the group he’s led since the late Maurice White retired from touring in 1996. Love Will Find a Way is his third straight album to lean strongly toward jazz, and this time around he’s enlisted the help of younger musicians, including arranger, composer, and keyboardist Robert Glasper, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. He’s also helped out by older players, such as pianists Chick Corea and Kenny Barron, and bassist Christian McBride.
Glasper and Bailey coproduced four tracks, one of them a stunning reinterpretation of Curtis Mayfield’s “Billy Jack.” Mayfield’s own recording unfolds as a slow groove -- Glasper and Bailey take it faster, with a rolling, funky bass line from Derrick Hodge. Kendrick Scott’s hard, sharp snare drum keeps the song in the pocket, and Bailey’s falsetto glides easily over Glasper’s arrangement for horns and strings, which evokes Mayfield’s 1970s recordings while sounding entirely contemporary. The lyrics paint a bleak picture of African-American inner-city life that’s still relevant.
Bailey pays further tribute to Mayfield with a cover of his “We’re a Winner,” a hit in 1967 for Mayfield’s group, the Impressions. Glasper’s piano provides strong harmonic background for Bailey’s falsetto, and Hodge and Scott are muscular and graceful in their rhythmic attack. For the final third of the song, Glasper shifts to a simple piano figure that accompanies a lavish vocal chorus, featuring guest singer Bilal, that deepens as the band vamps and Bailey brings the song to a moving close.
Chick Corea coproduced and plays on “You’re Everything,” which originally appeared on his group Return to Forever’s Light as a Feather (1972). The arrangement owes more than a little to Earth, Wind & Fire, with a fat bassline, deeply layered background vocals, and Corea’s upbeat solo. Christian McBride helps out in “Long as You’re Living,” by Oscar Brown Jr., Julian Priester, and Tommy Turrentine, first recorded by Abby Lincoln, in 1959. Bailey’s jazz vocal chops are on ample display in this hard-swinging arrangement.
The album’s title track first appeared on a Pharoah Sanders album, Pharaoh (1977).The great saxophonist sang on that recording, but Bailey’s arrangement is closer to an instrumental version of the song Sanders released later the same year, on an album titled for it. Casey Benjamin, from the Robert Glasper Experiment, plays soprano saxophone and sings with aid of a Vocoder. Bailey generously shares the spotlight with Benjamin, whose sax and voice help maintain a slow burn in this sweet slice of soul.
It’s no surprise that Bailey’s skillful handling of Marvin Gaye’s “Just to Keep You Satisfied” captures the original’s lush mix of romance, longing, and sex. It’s less expected that, in his soulful, exhilarating take on the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” he succeeds so well at reinventing and reinvigorating a well-known song and making it his own.
Alex DeTurk’s mastering ensures that the sound coheres, even with the album’s variety of musical styles and nine producers. The bottom end is solid without pushing too hard, and Bailey’s voice is focused and clear. Instruments are well placed on the soundstage, and it’s easy to hear each player.
Love Will Find a Way is a reminder that Philip Bailey’s influence remains strong in much of today’s music, and an affirmation of his continued relevance and talent. After more than 45 years, he’s still finding new things to say.
. . . Joseph Taylor