EARTH, WIND AND FIRE; The Columbia Masters (Sony Legacy)

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With Christmas beckoning, the big musical box sets are coming thick and fast and here’s one that would grace any soul fan’s stocking – a 14 CD retrospective of the mighty Earth, Wind and Fire’s tenure at Columbia, a period that saw Maurice White and his remarkable collective re-write the Book Of Soul!

The set, which retails at around £80, contains all the group’s Columbia albums – starting with 1972’s ‘Last Days And Time’ and ending with 1990’s ‘Heritage’ along with a bonus CD of rare and unissued material. That bonus CD features some live recordings, along with tracks that Maurice White recorded with people like Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Jennifer Holiday and his old paymaster Ramsey Lewis; you also get a solo White recording , his version of ‘Stand By Me’.

If you listen right through the box set … awesome assemblage that it is, then you’ll hear some of soul’s best ever music; you’ll also hear innovation, inspiration, experimentation and evolution… hallmarks of genuine genius in any genre.

Funny, but when they debuted with Columbia, Maurice White was happy for his new band to try to replicate the sounds of a group called Azteca (that band’s albums –recently reissued by bbr – are reviewed in our reviews section, by the way) but by 1990 EWF were flying high on their own spectacular, superstar trajectory….. begging the questions “What happened to  Azteca?” and “Why EWF?”.

Listening to this wonderful collection you’ll hear all the explanations for the transformation…. the quality of the musicians, the beauty of the songs, the role of outsiders like Charles Stepney, the mood of the era, the chemistry amongst the EWF team, the confidence, the belief… and above all else the driving passion, vision and conviction of Maurice White. The one-time Chess session drummer burned with the desire to be great and this box set perfectly illustrates how he guided his team to that very goal.

White has curated this collection and his thoughts and observations permeate the wonderful booklet that accompanies the set. Not over long, the notes are concise and not overly-smart or clever. They tell you just what you want to know … and deep down, what you knew already; that Maurice White’s Earth, Wind And Fire were/are soul icons – icons that crafted a generous, life-affirming music that became part of the soundtrack of the 20th century.

(BB) 5/5