Live at Montreux 1976
Stuff was a group of session musicians with jazz chops who united under the less-is-more banner of the groove. The result was, in effect, one of the all-time great R&B cover acts through the 1970s. Stuff’s shifting personnel had solidified by the time it played the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976. On the resulting live DVD and CD, guitarists Cornell Dupree and Eric Gale, keyboardist Richard Tee, bassist Gordon Edwards and drummer Steve Gadd won over a jazz audience by playing instrumental versions of hits by Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston and Earth, Wind & Fire.
The separate DVD and CD versions have a nearly identical running order of songs, yet each has separate strengths and weaknesses. The CD doesn’t offer out-of-focus camera shots, or pan to the guitarist who isn’t soloing by mistake. But the DVD doesn’t feature a creative cover of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” or disguise the malfunctioning microphone used by guest vocalist Odetta on Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day.”
Yet amid the misses are mostly hits, literally and figuratively. Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” features Dupree mimicking his vocals on guitar while Gale displays his stellar rhythm technique. After the guitarists trade roles, Gadd takes an unaccompanied break, and expertly shows how a drummer can solo within a rhythmic groove rather than freeform. Gale and Tee both died prematurely in the 1990s, but the keyboardist’s solos on Earth, Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” and Preston’s “You Are So Beautiful” (a major hit for Joe Cocker) provide fitting remembrances of his gifts.
Gale’s funky “How Long Will It Last” is one of the few originals in the set, and showcases his outstanding tone and tasteful soloing, aided the banner rhythm section work of Gadd and Edwards. Another Wonder gem, “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” segues into a second unaccompanied showcase for Gadd, who again shows why he’s one of the most-recorded musicians in history. Everyone in Stuff, in fact, may be on at least one recording in your collection.