Wonderful
Release Date: February 16, 2024
Label: Cellar

Wonderful is an extraordinary exploration of the harmonious union between a gospel choir and the rich sounds of LeDonne’s long-time outfit, Groover Quartet. The confluence of jazz organ and gospel strikes an uplifting, soulful chord within LeDonne’s compositions and his thoughtful arrangements of popular songs. The album features an exceptional lineup of LeDonne’s longtime musical comrades including tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth, and special guest alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, and percussionist Danny Sadownick.

The album's thematic thread is woven with the key element of love, serving as a heartfelt tribute to LeDonne's wife Margaret, and daughter Mary, whose radiant image adorns the front cover. Titled Wonderful for his Mary, LeDonne’s latest endeavor strives to celebrate her and shine a light on others that are part of the disability community, celebrating their diversity as a beautiful aspect of humanity.

LeDonne's journey as a father to Mary has been a source of inspiration for his music and activism. The creation of the Disability Pride Parade in New York City, initiated by LeDonne, was born out of his love for his daughter and the desire to showcase the vibrant and diverse nature of the disability community. "When I started out, I had no idea how to create a parade or a non-profit organization, but through Mary, I found strengths in myself that I didn’t know I had. When people thank me for my work creating the parade, I always tell them it wasn’t me – it was Mary," he explained.

The musical inspiration behind Wonderful arose from LeDonne's deep love for gospel music, a genre that has profoundly influenced his musical journey. LeDonne indicates, “To me, putting a gospel choir and a jazz organist together seemed natural – but, unbelievably, it had never been done before… Most of the music I love came from the grooves and feeling of gospel and the blues, and when I’ve listened to gospel choirs swinging hard on a refrain or a vamp, I’ve always wanted to get a piece of it. This recording was my chance to finally do that and not only add to the groove of the music, but also to expand the sound of the band with the most beautiful instrument of all – the human voice.”

To bring this momentous project to life, LeDonne collaborated with friend and talented singer Carolyn Leonhart, who assisted in arranging the choir parts. The diverse selection of songs includes gospel classics such as "Let Us Go," featuring the vibrant spirit of the choir, and “Put It Back”, which highlights the great percussion section made up of Farnsworth and Sadownick, who both hit a serious pocket right from the start. The band shines on John Coltrane’s spiritual composition “Lonnie’s Lament”, which LeDonne dedicates to the late Dr. Lonnie Smith, the great B3 Master and wizard of the Hammond organ.

Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing”, and “Make Someone Happy” demonstrate LeDonne’s ability to reinterpret classics in a fresh, exciting way. The bandleader notes “these are a couple of songs that I’ve always loved that fit perfectly into the story I'm telling on this recording.” On “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, the organ does a call-and-response with the choir for the melody and then settles into a greasy shuffle groove. “Make Someone Happy” features a soulful rendition of the beautiful melody by LeDonne and Alexander, a wonderful solo by Bernstein after which LeDonne pulls out all the stops unleashing the full power of the Hammond Organ. 

The album also features original compositions, such as "Twinkies Organ Prelude/Wonderful", which opens with a melody from the great gospel organist and singer Twinkie Clark, and leads into “Wonderful” a composition of LeDonne’s that documents his first venture as a lyricist. LeDonne notes “they’re simple words that express what my family means to me.” The album concludes with the lively closer "Genesis", another LeDonne original which Farnsworth featured on drums, playing at a blistering tempo. A true ensemble piece, “Genesis” ends the album on a joyous note.

Wonderful is a testament to LeDonne's musical versatility and his ability to seamlessly blend genres while delivering a profound message of love, unity, and celebration. This groundbreaking album promises to leave an indelible mark on the world of jazz and gospel, showcasing the power of love through the universal language of music.

THIERRY DE CLEMENSAT
PARIS MOVE
"This album fills our hearts with notes and happiness, making it an essential addition in more ways than one." Check out the full review here.

JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE
"...the choir adds a joyous element to this uplifting album, taking it to an even higher, oft exhilarating level." Check out the full review here.

NATE CHINEN 
NPR
"...I appreciate the the thoughtfulness that went into this album..." Check out the full podcast here.

CRAIG BYRD
CULTURAL ATTACHE
Check out this feature on the editors playlist here.

MARC MYRES
JAZZ WAX
"Joining Mike on his journey back to this era are musicians and singers well versed in this glorious but short-lived period in jazz that surfaced between the avant-garde and fusion." Check out the full review here.

ALEX DUTILH
RADIO FRANCE 
"Wonderful” is an extraordinary exploration of the harmonious union between a gospel choir and the rich sounds of Mike LeDonne's longtime band the Groover Quartet." Check out the full review here.

LANCE LIDDLE
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
"LeDonne's fiery playing along with NYC A-listers Alexander, Bernstein. and drummer Farnsworth, who has an impressive workout on LeDonne's Genesis, create the groove with the choir adding a kind of sanctified funk. " Check out the full review here.

MORGAN ENOS
LONDON JAZZ NEWS
"There are a lot of things that rotate around the magnificent view of life that I have now, thanks to her. " Check out the full interview here.

PIERRE GIROUX
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Filled with an uplifting, joyful spirit emanating from the choir's voices, the quartet, enhanced by Sadownick and Herring, picks up a fiery groove that elevates with a sense of spiritual resonance." Check out the full review here.

TURGAY YALÇIN
DARK BLUE NOTES
"The album, full of joy of life from beginning to end, reflects LeDonne's love for his disabled daughter Mary and is a continuation of the artist's social responsibility projects to improve the living conditions of disabled individuals." Check out the full review in Turkish here.

EDITOR
TEXTURA
"The album is so great, the question about a follow-up invariably arises. Could the magic captured on Wonderful! be harnessed again in a sequel? Hopefully we'll get a chance to find out." Check out the full review here.

ALLEN MICHIE
THE ARTS FUSE
"LeDonne keeps it right on the borderline between blues and jazz, just where a swinging organ trio needs to be." Check out the full review here.

JEFF KROW
AUDIOPHILE AUDITION 
"It’s the first known recording of a Hammond B3 led group, backed by a gospel choir. It’s a “natural pairing,” as what makes more sense than a choir backing the soulful grooves found in a Sunday morning gospel church service. " Check out the full review here.

JAMIE LEE RAKE
SHEPHERD EXPRESS
"One hopes LeDonne goes further in integrating jazz and gospel in the future, but for the present, Wonderful! offers plenty of inspiration for pathfinding in both genres." Check out the full review here.

JAKE BOWSER
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The choir is impressive and, when it is absent, LeDonne can always rely on his splendid Groover Quartet to lead the charge." Check out the full review here.

BARRY FOX
JAZZ VIEW
"This is a CD I shall certainly return to after writing the review..." Check out the full review here.