Earth, Wind & Fire Tribute by The Runaway Five Review

It was standing room only at The BeatNiq in Calgary when The Runaway Five and vocalist Jocelyn Alice performed on Friday, December 30, 2011. They presented a tribute to the American rhythm and blues, soul jazz and funk band Earth, Wind & Fire.

The Runaway Five with Jocelyn Alice. Photo by R-M Arca.

Grammy Winner and Hall of Fame Inductee Earth Wind & Fire

Founded by Maurice White of Chicago in the 1970's, Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF) is a group that has endured the test of time. Incorporating African rhythms, soul jazz, gospel and funk, EWF has played a major role in shaping R&B and pop music.

Earth, Wind and Fire has won numerous awards through the years. The group has earned Grammys and AMA Awards and nominations from 1975 all the way up to 2005. In 2000, EWF was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

That's The Way of the World and More Soul Jazz in The Runaway Five's Opening Set

The stage looked very cozy when vocalist Jocelyn Alice and 12 of the members from The Runaway Five stepped on-stage at The BeatNiq. The first set featured hits from Earth Wind and Fire's That's the Way of the World (1975) and The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 (1978) albums.

The group got the crowd fired up with “Got to Get You Into My Life.” This Beatles classic featured catchy and rhythmic solos by Oliver Miguel (tenor sax), Brett McDonald (alto sax) and Carl Lundgren (trombone).

The pace slowed down with “Reasons”. Brett McDonald performed a passionate solo on soprano sax against the soulful undertones played by Sarah Matheson on bari sax.

“Sing a Song” was a cheerful number which featured a virtuosic and rhythmic solo by Brendan Swanson on piano. Brett McDonald's solo on sax was extremely melodic and covered a wide range.

“I don't even need to tell you what it is,” said band leader Brendan McElroy when setting up the final song of the set. When the horns played the opening notes of “September”, everyone in the room excitedly exclaimed, “Oh!” before bopping to the music.

Throughout the first set, people continued to walk in, attempting in vain to find a seat. Other numbers performed in the first set included “Shining Star”, “Jupiter” “That's the Way of the World”.

“Boogie Wonderland”, “Fantasy” and More R&B and Funk Hits at the Earth, Wind and Fire Tribute

The Runaway Five and Jocelyn Alice opened the second set with “In the Stone”. This funky number showcased the baritone sax and soprano sax.

After some prodding from the band, members of the audience stood up and began to dance while “Boogie Wonderland” was played. This number was one of several that demonstrated how tight the group's playing was. Synchronization was excellent throughout the tricky rhythmic passages.

Things slowed down with the popular ballad “After the Love Has Gone”. This featured a beautiful opening by André Wickenheiser on flugelhorn and a great dialogue between Oliver Miguel and Brett McDonald. Jocelyn Alice also shone in this number, showing off her wide range and her earthy, sultry tone.

The final song was “Fantasy” from EWF's 1978 album, All n' All. This featured a soulful melody on soprano sax. As the final note died away, the audience quickly rose to its feet to give The Runaway Five and Jocelyn Alice a standing ovation.

Other songs played in the set included “Let's Groove”, “Mighty Mighty” and a piece by Brett McDonald dubbed "Horn Break". For an encore, they reprised “Shining Star”.

At the request of The BeatNiq management, the group reprised two more numbers, “In the Stone” and “Sing a Song”. The musicians really cut loose with some rapid-fire, rhythmic and mind-blowing solos. The saxophone solos explored the entire range of the instrument, while the piano and percussion solos featured a great deal of syncopation and complex African-Latin rhythms.

About the Video Game Jazz Group, The Runaway Five

Founded by Brendan McElroy, the Runaway Five performs jazz music arrangements of classic video games, including Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy and Zelda. In 2008 and 2009, the group performed at Massey Hall in Toronto during the Video Games Live tour.

The Earth Wind and Fire tribute featured André Wickenheiser (trumpet/flugelhorn), Leanne Paisley (trumpet/flugelhorn), Carl Lundgren (trombone), Brett McDonald (alto sax/flute), Oliver Miguel (tenor sax), Sarah Matheson (baritone sax/bass clarinet), Brendan McElroy (bass), Carl Janzen (guitar), Spencer Chenye (drums) and Luis Tovar (Tabera percussion). Guest artist Jocelyn Alice is a Calgary-based singer/songwriter.

The Runaway Five is based in Calgary and Toronto. Arrangements are written by Brendan McElroy, Brendan Swanson, Brett McDonald and Alex Goodman.

There were just a couple of glitches to an otherwise stellar performance (audio feedback and balance issues between the vocals and instruments at times). The arrangements were catchy, with punchy rhythms. The group gelled together very well, while the solos contained funky melodies and rhythm that kept the audience tapping and clapping throughout.

The Runaway Five and vocalist Jocelyn Alice performed a sold-out performance on Friday, December 30, 2011 at The BeatNiq Jazz & Social Club. They performed a tribute to the legendary R&B, soul jazz and funk band Earth, Wind & Fire, playing a selection of the band's greatest hits, including “Shining Star” and “September”.

Originally published on Suite101 on January 3, 2012. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.