It's quite easy to be fooled upon a first glance at the cover, classically designed to emulate the artwork that graced some of the finest albums ever to come from Blue Note. The concept sounds so appealing: a whole album of jazz reinterpretations of the works of Stevie Wonder, easily one of the most important artists in the history of soul music. However, while all of these elements seem so promising, it's what's on the inside that counts, and unfortunately Blue Note Plays Stevie Wonder falls woefully short of its enticing potential. The label's current roster is called upon to select some of Wonder's most important compositions, and many treat them with great reverence, rarely straying from their initial melodies and structures. However, it is this caution that gives the record its greatest fault: keeping the songs pleasant and saccharine-coated, with the majority of the performances bordering on smooth jazz territory (Paul Jackson, Jr.'s "It's a Shame" being the most prominent example). The production is crisp, warm, and polished, ideal for background music in a social setting. The musicianship more often than not is stellar, but nothing is groundbreaking. As a bonus, the man himself shows up for a harmonica solo on Stanley Turrentine's point-for-point rendition of "Boogie On Reggae Woman," and turns in a strong performance. Part of the magic in Wonder's canon of work is the raw emotion that emanates from each of the original performances. And while the intentions to replicate that emotion are sincere on Blue Note Plays Stevie Wonder, the realization often falls woefully short.
01 I Wish - Najee
02 Living for the City - Noel Pointer
03 Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing - Stanley Turrentine
04 Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours) - Pieces of a Dream
05 Summer Soft - Najee
06 Boogie on Reggae Woman - Stanley Turrentine
07 It's a Shame - Paul Jackson Jr.
08 Black Man - Najee, Stanley Clarke
09 Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You) - Noel Pointer
10 You and I - Stanley Turrentine, Eddie Del Barrio
11 Too High - Pat Martino