Review

Stevie Wonder's debut album, released when he was 11, is still an amazing musical document, showcasing his skills as a percussionist (drums and bongos), chromatic harmonica player, keyboardist (piano and organ), and composer -- and he was prodigious in all four categories. All of these skills are highlighted throughout this record, and Wonder's youthful, exuberant voice had a maturity suggesting that greatness was around the corner. Perhaps most surprising to contemporary listeners will be the emphasis on instrumentals, which made this a fairly unusual album by Motown standards to begin with -- apart from a few shouts in the background in some of the more free-form tracks, there's not a vocal to be heard on this album, yet the sounds are rich and diverse enough that one never misses them. What's more, a lot of what's here is extremely sophisticated instrumental music for its time, and the "jazz" reference in the title is not a matter of optimistic convenience or self-aggrandizement -- a lot of this is legitimate jazz. The original Motown CD (out of print at this writing) is also very appealing, as it was one of the few genuinely good-sounding compact discs to emerge from that first wave of Motown CDs in the late '80s. ~ Bruce Eder & Ron Wynn, Rovi

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