Kevin Mahogany’s stunning new CD, “Pride and Joy,” puts his rich baritone to work on a brand-new source of tunes — Motown. Even though other jazz vocalists, such as Cassandra Wilson, have reworked everything from Son House to The Monkees into fresh jazz hybrids, why Motown — with its incredibly well-crafted, lovely melodies — has been overlooked up to now seems surprising. It’s such an obvious choice.
Motown was home to such accomplished tunesmiths as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong and the songwriting team of Holland, Dozier and Holland, whose string of hits for The Isley Brothers, The Four Tops, The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas is rivaled by only a few others in the pop world. Mahogany chooses songs from all these songwriters. Berry Gordy, the head of Motown, kept his production teams working on songs with clear, catchy melodies and arrangements that could be heard coming out of monophonic transistor radios and car sound systems. The blues and jazz musicians who played on those recordings squeezed their technique into a formulaic four-beat to create some of the best pop ever.
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