Justin Stephenson Ensemble – Friday October 15 2021

What a memorable way to spend my birthday!!

A night at the Brisbane Jazz Club. A great band. A funky front-man. And the flawless delivery of every song from the Grammy Award-winning, Tamla Motown double album, Songs In The Key Of Life.

Released in September 1976, it was the eighteenth studio album…and a masterpiece…for Steveland Hardaway Judkins…later, Steveland Morris…then Little Stevie Wonder…and finally, Stevie Wonder.

And here, paying homage, left to right, across our river-side stage tonight, the Ensemble are:

Up front, in the flat cap, on electronic keyboard, piano and lead vocal…that’s Justin Stephenson, aka J-FUNK.

The tall guy on the custom-built Fender Strat and supporting vocals, is the cruisy, Mr. Bluesy, Aaron West.

At the heart of it all, is the driving Rhythm Section…

On electric bass and backing vocals, is Justin’s long-time friend and collaborator, Robbie Flay.

James Sandon is the oh, so cooool dude on the drum kit. And that’s Mark O’Brien on congas and percussion, with his great assortment of tings, tangs, dongs and tinkles

And adding shrill power and sweet depth when required, is the Horn Section: Matt Christensen on Tenor sax, Cassie Whitehead on Alto sax and Greg Spence on Trumpet.

So, if you are ready…  Let’s power up the turntable.   Slip the vinyl from that colourful cover. Gently ease the stylus down.   Cue the crackle…

And we are away….

From Track 1, Side 1: ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’ to Track 4, Side 4: ‘Another Star’, we are treated in sequence, to every one of the album’s 17 songs. And as a nice little extra…Track 1, Side 1: ‘Saturn’, from the bonus 4-track EP.

And wow!! At times, we could have been back there in ’76, at the The Hit Factory in New York City, or The Record Plant in Hollywood, sitting in with Stevie, his band and big-name cameo guests, at those recording sessions.  It was all so tight…so cool…and so faithful to the original arrangements.

And we really were ‘feelin’ it all o-o-o-ver’…calling for more and roaring our applause, by the time they gave us an encore reprise of Track 1, Side 5: the horns-driven classic, ‘Sir Duke’.

Thank you to the Justin Stephenson Ensemble for another great night at the Brisbane Jazz Club. And thank you for sharing your journey from 2021 back to 1976. That was 45 years in the key of life!!

We loved it!!  Come back soon!!

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club