During times of extreme political and social change, Stevie Wonder's voice and songwriting served as cultural and spiritual guideposts to many a listener, often lending insight and a barometer with which to measure the ways of the world. But that was largely during the golden phase of his career, generally regarded as being the late '60s through 1980's Hotter Than July. His work in the mid-'80s through the '90s was marginal in comparison, only hinting at glimpses of former brilliance, sugar-coated by over-polished production and radio-friendly content. So with a decade passing since his last full-length, 1995's Conversation Piece, people waited with bated breath for a sign of his return…and wondered which Wonder would show up: would it be the socially conscious genius who wrote anthems for a generation, or the R&B crooner who dominated quiet storm radio?
South African expatriate Jonathan Butler isn't really a jazz artist, but his laid-back, slightly jazz-tinged approach to R&B/pop has earned the singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer a lot of supporters in the urban contemporary, adult contemporary, quiet storm, and smooth jazz/NAC markets. Butler has enjoyed a following since the late '70s, although he reached his commercial peak in the late '80s, and he continues to tour and record in the 21st century. Born in Cape Town, South Africa in October 1961, Butler was only a child when he started singing and playing acoustic guitar. Butler, who was the youngest of about 12 children, absorbed a variety of music when he was a kid. He was an admirer of South African stars like singer Miriam Makeba, but he was also hip to the American soul and jazz artists who lived thousands of miles away in the United States. Stevie Wonder became a major influence, and so did former-hard bop-guitarist-turned-R&B/pop-singer George Benson.
There was a time, not long ago, when Baroque scores were treated as a folio of performance suggestions, not as the letter of the law. Performers felt free to add music or (more often) to take it away, and to do other things which were quite different from what the composer originally had in mind. Sir Thomas Beecham had no qualms about performing surgery on the music of George Frideric Handel, a composer he absolutely adored. No disrespect was intended. In fact, Beecham loved Handel so much, he wanted everyone else to love him too. That meant making him more palatable for modern tastes – bigger and leaner, at the same time.