BWB - Human Nature (2013)

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What could be harder than putting in the years, blood, sweat and tears to become an instantly recognizable icon? Being an artist in your on right and attempting to re-interpret said icon's music, for starters. 
 
To accomplish that feat successfully, one has to be secure and established enough within his or her own genre to have already cultivated a distinct voice apart from the superstar. And, if that task weren't daunting enough, that rendering needs to be identifiable to the original source, yet innovative enough to be worth the undertaking. Phew.
 
Those are some huuuuge shoes to fill, and in this case the penny loafers in question belonged to the late, great Michael Jackson. Ever since his 2009 passing, the supernova's hits have been re-packaged, re-mixed and re-configured in practically every way imaginable...except as instrumentals.
What could be harder than putting in the years, blood, sweat and tears to become an instantly recognizable icon? Being an artist in your on right and attempting to re-interpret said icon's music, for starters. 
 
To accomplish that feat successfully, one has to be secure and established enough within his or her own genre to have already cultivated a distinct voice apart from the superstar. And, if that task weren't daunting enough, that rendering needs to be identifiable to the original source, yet innovative enough to be worth the undertaking. Phew.
 
Those are some huuuuge shoes to fill, and in this case the penny loafers in question belonged to the late, great Michael Jackson. Ever since his 2009 passing, the supernova's hits have been re-packaged, re-mixed and re-configured in practically every way imaginable...except as instrumentals. And to fill that void, three veteran players---trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and guitarist Norman Brown---combine their stylings and skill sets to become BWB and create Human Nature, a sleek and spohisticated send-up of a few of the King's most revered and recognizable hits. 
 
Using the same technique that made their first collective project, Groovin,' such an instant success, BWB applies novel approaches to nearly a dozen of Michael's group and solo jams. Some are instantly recognizable, like the sax-driven, simmering take on "Billie Jean," a jaunty "The Way You Make Me Feel," and a refreshingly soulful send-up on one of the most pedestrian offerings in MJ's vast catalog, "Another Part Of Me." Another song that lends itself well to their methodology is one of the few songs
to which Michael had applied a contemporary jazz delivery, an extended-length interpretation of "I Can't Help It." 
 
If the songs aren't completely familiar in execution and intent ("Beat It" loses it rock edge, "Man In The Mirror" is less gospel than gossamer), BWB still makes the majority of them energetic and enjoyable: "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)" is trumpet-anchored, yet funkdafied; maudlin overtones still dominate "She's Out Of My Life" and "I'll Be There" feels like Anita Baker's "Rapture" at first, but spirals into a sweeping slow groove worthy of a waltz or rendezvous. The only one with vocals, the title track, isn't as straight-ahead as Michael's version, but the sweet (unbilled) soprano makes the words more philosophical and contemplative than the self-possessed original. 
 
Thanks to their individual talents shining through and combining so fluidly, this latest tribute, like its 2010 predecessor,  accomplishes it lofty goals: paying homage to a unique talent without subordinating the talents and legacies of the performing artists. Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun combine their powers here, reverently and effectively offering tribute to MJ's oh-so-imitated, but not-easily dupilicated, Human Nature. Recommended.    
 
By Melody Charles
 
 
Choice Cut - Maysa - "Lovin' You Is Easy"

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