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September 2008

Bill Ware And Vibes
Wonder Full: The Music of Stevie Wonder
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Stevie Wonder’s best music is heavy, landing hits in both the gut and the conscience. Vibraphonist Bill Ware knows that but he doesn’t attempt to turn this tribute into a jazz-funk rave-up as he interprets 10 of the master’s songs. He reshapes the funk into a smooth swing, although this isn’t smooth jazz by any stretch. Bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Jaime Affoumado sound much too animated for that mellow style, especially during one of Waki’s melodic solos.

Ware avoids the big classics in favor of solid album cuts from Wonder’s ’70s period. Six tracks were recorded live at Brooklyn’s Puppets Jazz Bar and these best represent the group. “All Day Sucker”’s funk takes more of an MJQ feel, built on a clever double-time shift. “As,” a heavy love song, becomes more of a blowing vehicle. Dean Bowman sings on the one vocal track, “Blame It on the Sun,” which includes a spacey section with Leon Thomas-esque yodeling in the middle of an otherwise straight pop arrangement.

Around the halfway point, though, the textures of the songs, including Ware’s programmed keyboards, make the songs start to run together. Avid Stevie Wonder fans might not notice this quality, but the songs would have sounded more distinct if another instrument had been added to more tracks or if tempos weren’t so similar.

Originally published in September 2008
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