Label: JCA Records
Website: www.jamesaustinjr.comEmbarking on the journey to rework Steve Wonder’s catalog of pop songs, pianist James Austin, Jr. interprets the tunes as pure instrumentals, drawing out influences of big band, Latin swing, classical music, and smooth jazz. His CD Songs in the Key of Wonder reverberates a nightingale-imbued iridescence as his keys inscribe a lyrical versing throughout the tracks.
The percussive beats lining “Another Star” exude a Latin shimmer as Austin’s keys swirl around them with infectious exuberance. Austin’s interpretation is steep in Latin swing with horns that blaze smooth jazz shades reminiscent of soothing nocturnes. The sensuous swivels of the horns strewn along “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” recede to give the piano solo the forefront as Austin’s keys punctuate the track with beaming ripples. The romantic mood familiar to audiences in “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” are magnified by the insouciant tone of Jarrard Harris’ alto sax and the poetic formations of Joe Magnarelli’s trumpet.
Austin conditions “Part-Time Lover” with smooth jazz features as guitarist Bobby Broom interlaces a buoyant pulse into the main theme of the track. The winsome lilt in the whorls of Joe Magnarelli’s trumpet cruising along “Golden Lady” breathes with the ease of reeds touched by a breeze. “Overjoyed” is a sparse number with gently glinting horns and the soft chimes of the keys in the background. Broom returns with a buoyant pulse perforating “Tuesday Heartbreak” as Austin’s keys nestle into the thumping twitches of David Williams’ bass.
Austin’s interpretation of some of Steve Wonder’s most popular singles makes audiences conscious of the versatility of Wonder’s music, deserving of the honor of being added to the American Songbook. Known for his gospel roots and his contributions to soul and jazz, James Austin, Jr. is a commendable architect of jazz-inspired instrumentals. His latest effort is a fine example of his diligence to understand his subject and to expand on what has been thought up previously. He takes finished music to another level, leaving audiences believing finished music is never really finished when one applies one’s imagination to it.
James Austin Jr. – piano (all) organ (tracks 4, 6, & 8)
Bobby Broom – guitar (tracks 5 & 9)
Jarrard Harris – alto sax (tracks 1,3,4,7 & 8)
Joe Magnarelli – trumpet (tracks 1,3,4,6, & 8)
Ben Rubens – bass (tracks 1-4 & 6-8)
Samuel Torres – percussion (tracks 1-4, & 6-8)
Kobie Watkins – drums (tracks 1-9)
David Williams – bass (tracks 5 & 9 & 10)