In the four decades that have passed since the apex of his creative prowess during the early-to-mid-1970s, Stevie Wonder’s voice has been heard echoed from every corner of pop, R&B, soul, funk, jazz and hip hop music, to the point of almost being taken for granted at times. Perhaps Wonder’s influence represents a force so pervasive throughout popular music that it can be difficult to fathom such a powerful artistic impact originating from only a single source, but the fact that the Motown luminary’s life and legacy has also remained somewhat elusive likely also contributes to this illusory quality. Compared to similarly ubiquitous musical influencers from their respective eras and genres, whether this be The Beatles, Bob Dylan or Prince, the readily-available facts that sketch Stevie Wonder’s life and work are comparatively scarce and scattered, and this translates over to our understanding of his enduring artistry. As such, there is a degree of dexterity and versatility that comes as a prerequisite when attempting to capture such tremendous genius, and Noel McCalla & The Derek Nash Band are affording their expertise in Stevie Wonder’s work to audiences at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho on Wednesday the 30th of August.
Primarily known for his 19 years of service as the lead vocalist of English hard rock outfit Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, as well as his time singing with jazz fusion group Morrissey—Mullen, Noel McCalla is likely a familiar face to those well-accustomed to the UK’s small club and pub circuits, and is commended by his contemporaries as a soul singing powerhouse. His partner for this night of Stevie Wonder worship, saxophonist Derek Nash, is commanding a band of jazz musicians proficient in their field. A prolific band leader – having piloted the jazz troupe Sax Appeal for over 30 years, not to mention his Acoustic Quartet and funk group Protect the Beat – and a member of the Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra since 2004, as well as Ronnie Scott’s Blues Explosion!, Nash knows all the ins-and-outs of operating within a band setting, having both led and been led, not to mention his time working in the studio or on stage with the likes of Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Tom Jones, Chaka Khan and countless others. The combined forces of McCalla and Nash, who are joined by Neil Angilley on piano, Orefu Orakwue on bass and Nic France on drums, are well equipped with years of industry experience and their own unique flares of technical aptitude to bring the music of one of popular music’s most revered icons to the same stage that has hosted the likes of Amy Winehouse, Jamie Cullum and Norah Jones. For those wishing to experience a fresh, jazz-driven take on the prodigious genius of Stevie Wonder, Noel McCalla & The Derek Nash Band are sure to provide exactly that.