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Mike LeDonne: Wonderful!


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Mike LeDonne is a bad-ass. I thought of five different ways to say this more elegantly but I kept coming back to the same phrase. Mike, whose mastery of the Hammond B3 organ is legendary, takes the instrument's sound up a notch on his new album, Wonderful! (Cellar), by enlisting an 11-member non-denominational gospel choir.

The sound I'm talking about is jazz in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mike and I are the same age—67. In fact, I'm about a month older. The point being is that I remember and love organ jazz that emerged during this period, when Atlantic, Prestige and Kudu and their respective producers Joel Dorn, Arif Mardin, Ozzie Cadena, Creed Taylor and, most important, Bob Porter, actively sought out artists who had a hip, soulful groove going on. Now add Corey Weeds, Wonderful!'s producer, to the list.

These period artists included soul-jazz masters such as Leon Spencer Jr., Charles Earland, Charles Kynard, Johnny “Hammond" Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Grover Washington Jr., George Coleman, Hank Crawford, Harold Mabern, Jimmy McGriff, Houston Person, Virgil Jones, Melvin Sparks, Maynard Parker, Idris Muhammad, Buddy Caldwell and so many others.

On Wonderful!, Mike got it all fabulously right, which isn't easy. You need this music in your heart and head and you need the groove to nail it. Choosing great sidemen helps. Joining Mike on his journey back to this era are musicians and singers well versed in this glorious but short-lived period in jazz that surfaced between the avant-garde and fusion. His Groover Quartet features Mike LeDonne (org), Eric Alexander (ts), Peter Bernstein (g) and Joe Farnsworth (d), with guest artists Daniel Sadownick (perc., on Let Us Go and Put It Back) and Vincent Herring (as, on Let Us Go).

The gospel choir (above) was arranged by Mike with Carolyn Leonhart and features Aisha de Haas, Audrey Martells, Carolyn Leonhart, Everett Bradley, Keith Anthony Fluitt, Jamie Leonhart, Jamile, JD Walter, John James, La Tanya Hall and Tanesha Gary.

The tracks:
  • Let Us Go (Benjamin Hutto)
  • Lonnie's Lament (John Coltrane)
  • Twinkies Organ Prelude/Wonderful (Twinkie Clark/Mike LeDonne)
  • Put It Back (Charlie Stanton)
  • Bridge Over Troubled Waters (Paul Simon)
  • Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing (Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson)
  • Make Someone Happy (Julie Styne)
  • Genesis (Mike LeDonne)

There's a lot of church on this album, thanks to the choir and Mike's organ. Eric's saxophone is so beautiful, Joe's drums knock me out, Peter's guitar adds gorgeous coloration and the special guests Daniel and Vincent are solid. Kudos to Maureen Sickler, who engineered at the Van Gelder Recording Studio.

But most of all, a big thanks to Mike for bringing the heat and taking me on a ride back to a time when I spent way too much time and money at Sam Goody's on Third Avenue and 43d Street. There, I was in constant search of Prestige's organ jazz releases, with those deep purple and kelly green LP labels. By the way, that's a beautiful photo Mike took of his daughter, Mary, on the cover. [Photo above of Eric Alexander, courtesy of Eric Alexander]

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Mike LeDonne's Wonderful! (Cellar) here.

JazzWax clips: Here's Let Us Go...

Here's Lonnie's Lament...

Here's Make Someone Happy...

And here's Mike and the group at Van Gelder's...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved.

Track Listing

Let Us Go; Lonnie's Lament; Twinkies Organ Prelude/Wonderful; Put It Back; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing; Make Someone Happy; Genesis.


Album information

Title: Wonderful! | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Cellar Music Group






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