When documenting the repertoire of an artist whose had such a long and distinguished career as Stevie Wonder, one sets about a challenging task. Even if the intent is only to register hit singles, the job would be quite demanding. However, if you want to create fresh interpretations of music that says something to what the musical genius is all about, and avoid covering the hits that have already been covered numerous times, like “Superstition,” “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” and “I Wish,” you might want to follow Yoron Israel’s lead.
Visions – The Music of Stevie Wonder (2013) by Yoron Israel & High Standards picks out a sampling of Wonder’s album tracks. Israel handles drums and percussion. With him are Lance Bryant, tenor and soprano saxophones; Lazlo Gardony, piano and keyboards; Ron Mahdi, bass; Thaddeus Hogarth, guitar on “Bird of Beauty” and harmonica on “Passionate Raindrops”; and Larry Roland, spoken word on “Visions” and “Visions Reprise.”
The first track is “Another Star,” taken from the two-disc Songs in the Key of Life is delivered with an easygoing vibe, led by Bryant’s tenor. Israel is content to remain low-key with the rest of the group, allowing the power of the arrangement and Bryant’s play to carry the song.
Israel opens “Creepin’” with a drum solo, letting us know we’re in for something other than a straightforward instrumental copy. The arrangement is a jazz waltz with some stop-time phrases thrown in. The tenor again carries the melody with the piano fills presenting an ethereal quality. Throughout, Israel mixes things up quite a bit on the kit.
Another song taken from the Key of Life is “Contusion,” which Wonder performed as an instrumental track, heavy on guitar and keyboards. Israel introduces his arrangement with a free-form mix of percussion and synths. The recognizable rhythm starts about a minute into the piece. Bryant leads, covering the guitar part with soprano sax. After two runs through the verse and chorus, Bryant is unleashed on the soprano. For much of the solo, Israel is the only accompaniment, giving both players opportunity to show their chops.
Israel is assistant chair and professor of percussion at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and music director at Victor World Outreach Church in Randolph, Massachusetts. He is author of the acclaimed educational DVD Creative Jazz Improvisation for Drum Set and the online course, Drum Set Fundamentals, which is offered through www.berkleemusic.com.