In my well-worn copy of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz, Stevie Wonder is mentioned 42 times—more than Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen or Cole Porter. It was inevitable that jazz musicians would discover Wonder. For the generation that came of age in the mid-’60s through the ’70s, including members of the Deep Blue Organ Trio, Wonder was in the air. And so it is that organist Chris Foreman, guitarist Bobby Broom and drummer Greg Rockingham came to record Wonderful!, a sly, in-the-pocket tribute in which jazz, soul, blues, funk, R&B and gospel meet.
Opening with “Tell Me Something Good,” a Top 10 hit for Rufus and Chaka Khan in 1974, the group conveys a defining presence of ensemble groove, instrumental interplay and laidback attitude. Foreman’s and Broom’s accompaniment figures—sustained organ chords, subtle guitar jabs—along with Rockingham’s uplifting beat never overwhelm, no matter who’s soloing. Too often in jazz, there’s a rush to dispense with the melody and get on to the soloing. On this album, the melody gets plenty of respect in terms of colorful ensemble voicings and trenchant solos. You know it’s an album with focus and personality.
On “If You Really Love Me,” Foreman employs his instrument’s vibrato circuit to good effect. On “My Cherie Amour” the tempo is down for a soulful, slow-dancing exposition of melody and harmony. “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” goes back to the funky, wailing sound of organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist Kenny Burrell. “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” shows the soloists’ ability to keep the melody in mind when improvising. These are just a few of the highlights of this nine-song homage. Surely this is the feel-good jazz album of the year—with no sacrifice in integrity.