Various Artists

Isn't Jazz Lovely? The Stevie Wonder Jazz Songbook

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It's rather remarkable given the sheer breadth and brilliance of Stevie Wonder's songwriting catalog just how few pop artists have successfully attempted cover versions -- the Red Hot Chili Peppers' hit rendition of "Higher Ground" comes to mind, and Jeff Beck recorded a scorching version of "Superstition," but it's perhaps the ultimate tribute to Wonder's singular genius that so few artists have dared attempt to breathe in his rarefied air. Most Stevie tributes are a compelling argument for leaving well enough alone, but Isn't Jazz Lovely? bucks the trend: these lithe instrumentals don't even attempt to match the funky energy of the originals, instead settling into a uniformly light, gentle groove that reinforces the simple beauty of Wonder's melodies. Most of the material dates back to the 1970s, a decade that Stevie pretty much owned, and even the arrangements clearly reflect his influence -- even if these weren't straight covers, their debt to albums like Talking Book and Innervisions would be substantial. Highlights include Carmen McCrae and Cal Tjader's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," Booker T. & the MG's' "I Was Made to Love Her," and Houston Person's "Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday."