This is a tribute album to the magnificent, musical contributions of Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. Jazz reedman, Don Braden, has celebrated the popular music of these two Grammy-winning artists with his tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute. He shows the world that these pop icons and popular musicians are also incredible composers. As we know, a great song can be interpreted any number of ways. Every cut on this recording is superbly produced and Braden’s exciting ensemble of memorable musicians do not disappoint. Starting with the familiar classic, Earth Wind & Fire’s hit record, “Fantasy,” (composed by Verdine & Maurice White and E, Dek Barrio) the Braden ensemble kicks into high gear and speeds Straight-ahead with no compunction. Braden’s flute on “Visions” is beautifully executed. The melody of this Wonder tune is already lovely and I’m happy that Don Braden chose his flute to interpret it. Starting as a ballad, it doesn’t take the band long to march into a slow-swing groove. Michael Jackson’s recording of the Stevie Wonder and Susaye Green song, “I Can’t Help It” is one of my favorite pop songs. Braden transforms it into a beautiful jazzy arrangement. Braden has also offered two original compositions, “The Elements” and “The Wonder of You”. Both are well written compositions that leave plenty of room for his band members to showcase their extraordinary skills.
Don Braden’s love of Wonder’s music and Earth Wind and Fire songs started in Louisville, Kentucky, when he was just a young man. It was not only the melodies and the danceability, but the messages within these songs that caught Braden’s ear. Braden says he soaked up the joy, strength and love that embodies the African-American spirit in this modern music. Now, he shares that experience with us, in his own unique way, never forsaking the premise and importance of jazz. This is not Smooth Jazz. This is the real deal. Braden has taken the contemporary, musical standards of his generation and converted them into arrangements of the only original artform heralded as the United States’ indigenous, classical music; Jazz. The way I see it, this is the new American Songbook and these are the new composers of the twenty-first century. I applaud Don Braden and his worthy musicians for gifting us with this wonderful work of artful music and for honoring some of our modern-day composers.
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