In the annals of R&B music, there are only a few singers who have a memorable presence in the minds of most; however, every now and again an individual does arise to the top of his abilities and well beyond those of his counterparts. Throughout history, legendary figures such as Sam Cook, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, Teddy Pendegrass, Luther Vandross, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles and a host of others have endeared themselves to many people. But one individual who has epitomized R&B on a level whereby a chord is often struck among countless hearts and souls around the world is Marvin Gaye.
From 1957 to 1984, Marvin’s unique style of music mesmerized the general public with some of the most provocative tunes ever conceived. In 1971, he released an album entitled What’s Going On, considered by many to be one of his greatest achievements and most indubitably the most controversial. Although Marvin’s career spanned two generations, he is most remembered for songs such as "Sexual Healing," "I Want You," "Let’s Get It On," "Trouble Man," "Mercy, Mercy Me" and "Too Busy Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Baby." In addition, just as those releases garnered numerous accolades and awards, any number of his other recordings have also gone on to become number-one hits or have been covered by many other jazz, popular and R&B artists.
As he stands today, Marvin Gaye is highly regarded as one of the most controversial and important figures in American music. Unfortunately he passed away much too soon to say just how great his contributions would have been. Yet even by today’s standards, his music continues to be a testament to his remarkable career as a singer and songwriter. His legacy can be found in the songs he left to his loyal legion of fans. One recent entry into the tribute category is keyboardist Jason Miles, whose latest release revisits many of Marvin’s runaway hit recordings while also paying tribute to a legendary R&B icon.
Jason Miles is very adept at paying homage to musical influences. Other albums have included collections highlighting Miles Davis, Weather Report, Ivan Lins and Grover Washington, Jr. This latest effort entitled What’s Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye examines the intuitive creative scope of some of Marvin’s original releases without compromising their integrity with a bunch of overstated cover songs. Instead, Jason Miles has gone another further on this remake by pulling each of the original tracks apart note-by-note and groove-by-groove. He then re-packaged eleven illustrative tracks that not only highlight the overall impact of the original intent, Jason’s What’s Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye paints a picture of undeniable passion for Marvin Gaye the artist.
In fact, this latest offering is a collective response to many of Marvin’s number-one hits. But one of the standout aspects of What’s Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye is the notion of what Marvin sang to and about 25 years ago, which is just as relevant today as it was in 1971 with the release of the title track. One of the many considerations a musician should adhere to when paying homage to a musical legend is staying as close to the essence of the artist’s original idea. Jason Miles does an excellent job of applying his unique production talents to such songs as "Sexual Healing," What's Goin' On" as well as the other nine tracks.
To paint this intuitive picture of respect, Jason includes the talents of Jay Beckenstein, Bobby Caldwell, Dean Brown, Marcus Miller, Herb Alpert, Nick Colionne, Andy Snitzer and James "D Train" Williams as sidemen, which in itself adds even more high octane fuel to the project. In addition, What’s Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye runs the gamut of radio-friendly tracks to include "Trouble Man" and "Let’s Get It On."
All in all, Jason Miles has put together a release that allows an introspective and personal look at tunes Marvin Gaye recorded that reflected his own perspective on love, divorce and politics. Each song in its own manner had an array merit. However, some were considered light years ahead of their time. That is what made Marvin Gaye so special as an artist, which also included his ability to touch the realities of everyday life.
In jazz, the ability to cover songs with the same passion as the original artist is rare. Many times, the original intent is often lost in translation. With Jason Miles, there is always an intensely passionate attention to detail, which makes for easy listening on all of his cover releases. What’s Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye does much the same as has been revisited with other artists. Jason’s approach to each project is remarkable and his music commands attention.
As I examine the many so-called tributes to artists and the resurrection of songs that have special meanings for some, I am often struck by the lack of creativity and foresight that is exhibited. On the other hand, it can be truthfully said that Jason Miles is a cut above most and he has successfully translated the original intent of one of music’s most beloved artists. What’s Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye is a definite testament to a R&B icon.