Stevie Wonder, Abbey Road Studios, London

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The Independent Culture

Backed by a seven-piece band and three vocalists, Wonder eases his way in to the performance with "Love's In Need of Love Today", the opening track from his Songs in the Key of Life 1976 opus. The message remains more pertinent than ever but, for now, Stevie wants to "get the party started" and launches into "Masterblaster (Jammin')", his Bob Marley-inspired track, and then plays one of his trademark keyboard riffs into the gospel-infused "Higher Ground".

"Living for the City" and "You and I" follow, Wonder digging deep at the grand piano. He switches to smoochie quiet storm mode with "Ribbon in the Sky", a slow song dedicated to "all the lovers in the house". At last, he touches on the new album with the mid-tempo "My Love is On Fire", which suffers from the odd lyrical cliché and would have been recorded with Luther Vandross if the soul balladeer hadn't died earlier this year.

A musical genius who took on Ray Charles's legacy and reinvented soul in the Seventies, Wonder is an emotional performer who runs the gamut of human emotions, from deep, heartfelt sorrow to exuberance and childish impishness. He produces a harmonica and teases us with the intro to "Fingertips Pt 2", his 1963 US chart-topper, but instead opts to play the infectious "Sir Duke", his tribute to Duke Ellington.

Daughter Aisha Morris joins him for the staccato funk of "Positivity", which has so many lyrics that her father briefly loses his way and laughs out loud. "Isn't She Lovely" predictably follows, along with a gushing appearance by the current Motown president, Sylvia Rhone.

Earlier in the day, Wonder had been adlibbing Beatles lyrics while recording an interview with Steve Wright, but the man who covered the Fab Four's "We Can Work It Out" doesn't play any Beatles songs. After all, he's occasionally recorded at Abbey Road, and Paul McCartney plays guitar on the title track to A Time to Love.

Thankfully, Wonder avoids the ghastly "Ebony And Ivory", though he can't help playing "I Just Called to Say I Love You", which marked the nadir of his career in 1984, and "You Are The Sunshine of My Life", just to prove that the ingredients in his Motown melting pot include easy listening as well as jazz, rhythm 'n' blues and funk.

"What the Fuss", the dancefloor filler that heralded the arrival of A Time to Love, proves irresistible, as does "Superstition", which segues into "You Haven't Done Nothin" and an extended "Do I Do". Trumpeter Nolan Smith Jr beautifully covers the parts Dizzy Gillespie played on the original recording, and Wonder is truly in his element, scat-singing and adlibbing. He forgets all about curfews and the poor BBC engineers who will have to edit this supreme performance for broadcast, and finishes with "Shelter in the Rain" and "As", another track from Songs In The Key of Life. On this showing, the tour that is rumoured for next year can't come soon enough. The genius is back.

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