Five years before he left to found Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White was the second drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He had succeeded the groups original drummer Isaac “Red” Holt after he’d left to form Young-Holt Unlimited in 1966. That group in turn had a huge instrumental hit with “Soulful Strut” three years after leaving Ramsey’s trio. Maurice observed that while the trio played on a lot of college campuses while he was in it, most of the audience were more in his age group than Ramsey and bassist Cleveland Eaton. In the latter period of his being part of the trio,began to envision a jazzy funk/soul sound that would appeal more to latter silent generation people.
Maurice’s final album as the drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio was 1969’s Another Voyage. For the most part,it continued in the groove and rhythm centered soul jazz the trio had pioneered throughout the 60’s. A groove that became crucial to the development of the jazz/funk genre as much as that of the Jazz Crusaders. For his part,Maurice had already developed a strong interest in Egyptology. That cultural ethic and music had also been popular with free jazz pioneers such as Sun Ra beforehand. And Maurice was intent on integrating that into Ramsey’s trio by the end of the 60’s. The result was my favorite song on this particular album entitled “Uhuru”-the Swahili word for “freedom”.
Eaton’s funky upright bass popping opens the song. It lays the groundwork for the rhythm of the song-most of which is supplied courtesy of Maurice White himself. His percussive drumming on the song is based on a slower Clyde Stubblefield style rhythm with a lot of jazzier fills on brushing cymbals and hi hat. Over that Maurice brings in the main melody on the African thumb piano known as the Kalimba. This melodic statement evolves into a thick,purely rhythmic solo as the song continues. The sound of the trios members hooting and hollering ques to one another comes together with hand claps on the final verses of the song for an extra thick groove.
When I first heard this song,it occurred to me that the melody Maurice played on Kalimba here was one which I’d heard before. That same Kalimba melody did in fact show up 14 years later on the EWF album Powerlight in 1983. It was used on the more electronic interlude of “Mizar” at the end of the albums first side on vinyl. The sound on this song,it’s title and general atmosphere showcased the beginning of Maurice White’s expression of Afrocentricity as a positive social and musical force as the 1960’s transitioned into the 70’s. On the more personal level,it was exciting to hear the main framework of EWF’s sound begin while Maurice was the drummer in another group.