With the fourth anniversary of the passing of Michael Jackson upon us, it’s a good time to pause, reflect and celebrate his life and his music.
Celebrating Jackson’s music is something a number of contemporary artists, jazz musicians included, have done more constantly in recent years. I’m thinking of Joey DeFrancesco, Vijay Iyer, Esperanza Spalding, and the list goes on. Not only is it a popular thing to do, it’s a fine way to pay tribute to one of the most important entertainers of all time.
Speaking of fitting tributes to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, BWB’s Human Nature — featuring trumpeter Rick Braun, tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and guitarist Norman Brown — was released by Heads Up/Concord Music Group on June 18. The project does an excellent job of spotlighting 11 of Jackson’s songs, which were selected by all three world-class musicians. BWB also includes keyboardist John Stoddart, bassist Braylon Lacey, drummer Khari Parker, percussionist Lenny Castro and organist Ralph Lofton.
“This is a fun collaboration,” Brown said in the album press release. “First of all, we really love each other. We’ve been good friends for the longest time. Rick is a very serious trumpet player; so is Kirk on his horn. And then we feed off each other and bring stuff to life that way.
“So it was Rick’s idea to make these songs, to do the Michael Jackson songbook. So we just started picking our favorite ones. It was hard to narrow it down, but we narrowed it down to 11 tunes and we hope that we did him proud.”
If there’s one Michael Jackson tribute album you must own, this is it. The passion, the genuine artistry, and commitment — it’s all there. From the opening soulfully groovin’ and danceable track, “Another Part of Me,” to “Billie Jean” featuring a bit of scatting, to the album’s title track with vocalist Sheléa’s gentle breezy treatment, you know this album is a unique and carefully crafted collection of tunes that are very near and dear to each individual artist.
The bluesy rendition of “Who’s Lovin’ You” features Braun, Whalum, and Brown at their finest. They take their time on this one, and along the way remind you why they are three of the most revered musicians in the business. Having listened to a number of Kirk Whalum albums over the years, I can say without a doubt Whalum on “She’s Out of My Life,” sounds absolutely superb.
Braun’s clarion trumpet playing, along with Brown’s precise lines, aptly justifies defining this group as a “supergroup.” The more I hear “I Can’t Help It,” the more surprised I am by the creative ways in which it’s presented. Such is the case on Human Nature with Braun’s muted trumpet helping to round out this beautiful arrangement. Delivered at a slower pace, it sounds equally energized.
And “I’ll Be There,” hasn’t sounded as good since I heard Marcus Miller (also on the Concord roster) play it live last year.
“Man in the Mirror” is also included on Human Nature and closes out a tribute album Michael Jackson himself could be proud of.
Their one-of-a-kind rapport and chemistry is undeniable. Braun, Whalum and Brown first came together as BWB 11 years ago, so playing together on Human Nature was a reunion for them.
BWB are currently on a big tour in support of the album, visit www.concordmusicgroup.com for more information.
Robin James welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.