Since the passing of Michael Jackson there have been numerous tribute release from a plethora of artists covering just about every genre known to man. Covering pop songs in a jazz setting can be the musical equivalent of tap dancing in a sonic mine field. There are two primary dangers that have plagued artists attempting to do nothing more than pay fitting tribute to a global superstar. The first challenge would be the arrangements which more often than not go karaoke before you can blink. The second challenge is the transformation of the particular work into a new artistic presentation where the performing artist can make it their own if for only a brief moment in time. The emotional connectivity is often missing and there is an inherent feeling of sadness that begins to permeate the recording that some artists can never work past.
BWB and their release Human Nature manages to transcend the inherent dangers of doing a tribute record with lifeless covers to doing an imaginative reharm of Jackson classics that turn into a musical celebration of a life lived and contributions that will continue to inspire the next generation of artists and fans alike. BWB released their first recording titled Groovin' back in 2002 when Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown were all recording for a different label. Despite having not worked as a cohesive unit for over a decade, there is an undeniable chemistry that allows perhaps the three hottest names in contemporary jazz to explore the possibilities of one of the most famous catalogs of all time. For those thinking "smooth jazz" you may want to actually listen to the entire recording before passing premature judgement. The arrangements lean more to the modern jazz interpretations of popular music i.e. John Coltrane and "My Favorite Things."
The more serious harmonic extensions laid out on some of Jackson's most popular tunes include a modern post-bop approach to "Billie Jean." Kirk Whalum gives a Memphis vibe and an exciting blues twist to "Who's Lovin' You." The classic tune "Beat It" turns into a Rick Braun joint with an addictive reggae-ska riff that takes dance music to a totally different and more organic level then perhaps even Jackson could have imagined. Norman Brown lays down a George Benson groove that is timeless and tasty in flavor and presentation. Complex melodies and sophisticated use of harmonies make for a textured release that far outshine the expected pop music covers one might come to assume would be the logical direction for this project.
Two Grammy winners in Norman Brown and Kirk Whalum reunite with perhaps the most versatile contemporary trumpet player of our time to turn out a vibrant celebration of the musical life and times of the King of Pop. This dynamic trio pulls off the unthinkable as well if not better than any other recording artists to date!
Tracks: Another Part Of Me; Billie Jean; Human Nature; Beat It; Who's Lovin' You; She's Out Of My Life; Shake Your Body; The Way You Make Me Feel; I Can't Help It; I'll Be There; Man In The Mirror.
Norman Brown: guitar; Kirk Whalum: tenor sax; Rick Braun: trumpet