Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions
(Jules Buckley Orchestra/ Cory Henry. Royal Albert Hall. 21 August 2023)
Will it work? How is it going to work? Who will do it…will they be up to it? Perhaps the easiest thing is to theorize, to wonder in advance about whether a large-scale concert involving a full studio orchestra doing a “re-creation” of an album by an artist who is still alive and still performing actually makes sense.
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The answer: the sheer energy and the quality of the people behind this endeavour – there were many of them – made this Prom feel very worthwhile indeed.
Perhaps the overwhelming impression of this evening was one of the inventiveness, the quality, the sheer range of this music and just how good it is. There never seemed to be a problem at any moment to engage, stimulate enliven the audience. The cumulative effect was that by the time the final scheduled number (“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”) and the first of the two encores (“Superstition” ) came, it felt we had experienced something special.
Maybe the sound engineers will tend to favour the radio recording rather than the live experience, but again and again there were moments when you can just feel the groove, and also the familiarity of particular songs carrying the whole audience with them. Songs like “Living For the City”, “Higher Ground” or “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” have a complete irresistibility built in. It turned out that the band also had a secret weapon. Stanley Randolph has been a regular drummer in Stevie Wonder’s bands for many years, and his presence and understanding of this music were clearly adding authenticity and oomph. The fact that so many orchestra members when not playing seemed to be living every beat seemed to sum up the vibe of the whole occasion.
Perhaps the biggest responsibility was on the shoulders of Cory Henry, ‘jazz organist, pianist, gospel musician, music producer and former member of Snarky Puppy’. He was there on just about every number, but his singing, his fabulous Moog/synth playing and his responsiveness to everything going on around him dispelled all doubt. And giving him a final solo encore with piano, a gospelly “If it’s Magic” was a nice touch: for the first time it brought him properly into contact with the audience on his own terms.
Among the singers, I was particularly struck by the level of passion and belief that Laura Mvula gave us. And by the superhuman sostenuto and stage presence of Shelea. The arrangers – full list below – include classy names like Tom Richards and Callum Au. And there were big and important roles for Gareth Lockrane and Ross Stanley. Graeme Blevins bossed it with a storming alto sax solo soaring over the full band right at the end of the evening. Yes, it needs saying: there is an abundance of quality in this endeavour,
For the Proms to have placed this programme – dominated the nine songs from Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” – at a point in the season where it was immediately preceded by Mozart’s last symphony, and followed by Schumann’s only opera clearly sets out to challenge assumptions about the value of this music. It was also the right thing to do.
SET LIST FOR PROM 48 (tracks marked * are from Innervisions)
Something Out of the Blue arr. Tim Davies Higher Ground arr. Jochen Neuffer I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer arr. Tim Davies with Sheléa Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing
1 Too High* (arr. Rob Taggart)
2 Visions * (arr. Callum Au )
3 Living for the City * (arr. Jochen Neuffer)
4 Golden Lady * (arr. Jochen Neuffer )
5 All in Love is Fair* (arr. Tommy Laurence)
6 Superwoman/ Where were you Last Winter (from “Music of my Mind”- arr. Jochen Neuffer)
7 They Won’t Go (arr. Tim Davies with Laura Mvula)
8 Jesus Children of America* ( arr. Tim Davies)
9 He’s Misstra Know-It-All* (with Lianne La Havas)
10 Creepin’ (from Fulfillingness’ First Finale – arr. Rob Taggart)
11 Something Out of Blue (from “Where I’m Coming From” – arr. Tim Davies )
12 Higher Ground * (arr. Jochen Neuffer )
13 I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer (arr. Tim Davies with Sheléa/ from “Where I’m Coming From)
14 Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing * (arr. Tom Richards with Sheléa)
1 Superstition (From “Talking Book”)
2 If it’s magic (from “Songs in the Key of Life”)
NOTE: Prom 48 (unusually) is not available via BBC Sounds because of copyright restrictions