When Maurice White produced the Urban Knights' self-titled debut album in 1994, some people were surprised to see Earth, Wind & Fire's leader/founder producing an album of mostly instrumental jazz-funk and pop-jazz. But for those who knew something about White's pre-EWF history, it wasn't all that surprising -- White had a jazz background, and he played drums in the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming EWF's original pre-Philip Bailey lineup in 1970. Lewis, in fact, is among the participants on this CD by the Urban Knights, whose first lineup consists of Lewis on piano, Grover Washington, Jr. on tenor and soprano sax, Victor Bailey on electric bass, and Omar Hakim on drums. With such an all-star lineup, this album should have been exceptional -- it isn't, although Urban Knights offers a generally pleasant, if inconsistent and unremarkable, mixture of jazz, R&B, and pop. There are moments of interest; the CD's more noteworthy tracks include Lewis' Brazilian-influenced "Urban Samba," Hakim's dreamy "Hearts of Longing," and White's funky "On the Radio." But when Earth, Wind & Fire's leader/founder is the producer and musicians like Lewis and Washington are on board, you expect an album that is more than just pleasant -- you expect a masterpiece. And while Urban Knights isn't bad, it doesn't live up to its enormous potential.
Urban Knights Review
by Alex Henderson