Back in the '70s, jazz organists such as Jimmy McGriff, Charles Earland and Leon Spencer Jr. took on soul hits of the day, giving them a funky, dynamic groove. Now the '70s are again being taken seriously by contemporary jazz artists. On their fourth album, Wonderful!, the Deep Blue Organ Trio pays tribute to the music of Stevie Wonder, and the result is solid and exhilarating. On each track, the group hooks into Wonders' songs' sweet spots without ever losing his original melody or feeling.
The Deep Blue Organ Trio is comprised of guitarist Bobby Broom, organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham. They give nine of Wonder's songs a new life by approaching the material from surprising directions. Intros are unlike the ones Wonder uses and camouflage what you're about to hear. Meanwhile, the beats created by Rockingham wisely have little to do with the originals. Invariably, the songs are lifted into a hip place.
The Wonder tracks are Tell Me Something Good (which Wonder wrote and Rufus and Chaka Khan recorded in 1974), If You Really Love Me, Jesus Children of America (from Innervisions), My Cheri Amour, Golden Lady, You Haven't Done Nothin', It Ain't No Use (from Fulfillingness' First Finale), As (from Songs in the Key of Life) and You've Got It Bad Girl.
It's gratifying to hear these familiar songs served up with a soul-jazz twist. While each of the originals were pop-soul hits, there's now plenty of time to explore them from an improvisational perspective. What's more, the trio has added gravy and mashed potatoes. All of the interpretations are funky and completely comfortable in a gospel space.
High points include a swaggering If You Really Love Me; Jesus Children of America taken at a tempo faster than the original; Golden Lady in 6/8 time; and a walking As. Even You've Got It Bad Girl slinks along with a shuffle beat. Every track offers a new, exciting take on material that was great to begin with.
After years of Motown being coldly remixed, reloaded, overhauled and turned inside out by techno wizards, it's refreshing to hear jazz interpretations of Stevie Wonder's soul classics. The Deep Blue Organ Trio hasn't given these songs a new life?they've created a hip Patty Duke cousin for each of them. Hopefully the trio will turn to Marvin Gaye or Holland, Dozier and Holland next.