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View So Tender: Wonder Revisited, Volume Two by Joe Gilman Trio

I actually put off listening to this CD for a bit because I assumed it would be another collection of Stevie Wonder's trademark tunes. You know the ones - 'My Cherie Amour,' 'Isn't She Lovely,' 'Living For The City,' 'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,' 'I Just Called to Say I Love You,' and all the rest of his hits. When I gave "View So Tender" a closer look, I was pleased to see that the California-based pianist Joe Gilman had really done his homework, digging far deeper than most into the endless riches of Wonder's songbook. Most of the tunes on View So Tender never became huge hits, and received little - if any - radio airplay. Yet Gilman's versions show that these less well-known gems are every bit as rewarding as Wonder's classic tunes, if not more so simply due to their lack of familiarity. Interestingly, most of the CD's ten tunes are from Wonder's later recordings, with four from the late 70s classic Songs in the Key of Life,and one each from his 80s albums Hotter Than July, Characters, and In Square Circle. Only 'You and I,' 'Bird Of Beauty,' and 'I Don't Know Why (I Love You)' predate 1976. Fortunately for us, Gilman has not written off the 80s as Wonder's unremittingly fallow years. In fact, View So Tender is proof positive of Wonder's continued viability as one of our greatest modern songwriters and composers.

The overall sound of Gilman's trio is quite similar to Ahmad Jamal's trio - especially the one with Jamil Nasser and Frank Gant. There is an abundance of detail here - sudden shifts in tempo and mood - that requires that particular trio's brand of musical telepathy. Like Jamal, Gilman has prodigious technique that he uses quite judiciously. Though steeped in blues, gospel, and jazz, Gilman's chops are clearly at the concert pianist level. Yet, his playing is rarely flowery or overwrought. During his probing, thoughtful solos, Gilman repeatedly dazzles by spinning off unexpected Tatum-esque runs or quoting bits of other popular tunes - these moments are filled with a palpable joy and enthusiasm. His young rhythm section is just as adept on their respective instruments. Drummer Justin Brown is an aggressive player who - from the sound of his solo on 'Cryin' In The Night' - has obviously played a lot of funk and fusion. Yet, he displays first-rate acoustic jazz instincts throughout View So Tender, with his deft brushwork and crackling on-the-beat propulsiveness that never overwhelms. On bass, Joe Sanders is a fluent and adept soloist, as well as an attentive and inventive accompanist who doesn't get pushed aside by the restless and busy playing of both Gilman and Brown.

Each of the ten tunes on View So Tender have been carefully re-arranged and re-imagined, but not so 'jazzified' that they are unrecognizable. Gilman's version of 'Knocks Me Off My Feet' is almost Wonder-rococo, with a mind-boggling array of stops and starts, tempo shifts, and sudden twists and turns. Despite all these convolutions, this piece really grooves all the way through! I was especially pleased to see 'Contusion' on the track listing - this instrumental from Songs In The Key Of Life was Wonder's artistically-successful take on the then-prevalent jazz-rock style. Gilman and his trio don't disappoint, recasting this brilliant fusion tune as an up-tempo swinger. The bossa-styled version 'Bird of Beauty' is no less rewarding, with wonderful solos by Gilman and Sanders coasting over Brown's quietly churning rhythms. 'Easy Goin' Evenin'' is another high point. Gilman, repeatedly referring to Wonder's melody, uses distinctively atmospheric harmonies to take the tune somewhere completely new. Funk is the order of the day on the CD-closing version of 'As If You Read My Mind.' Listening to this rhythmic tour de force with its perfectly placed stops and starts and meticulous attention to detail, I was again reminded - quite pleasantly - of the late-70s / early 80s Ahmad Jamal trio.

View So Tender is an excellent CD that bears repeated listenings - Gilman and his trio have mastered every aspect of the jazz piano trio game. Best of all, Gilman goes well beyond merely covering Stevie Wonder's tunes - he shows why Stevie Wonder, in many ways, is one of America's greatest and most versatile composers. Bravo!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe Gilman Trio
  • CD Title: View So Tender: Wonder Revisited, Volume Two
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Capri Records
  • Rating: Five Stars
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