In the contemporary jazz firmament, do stars get bigger than Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown?  And in the rock and pop world, do stars get bigger than Michael Jackson?  Is it really 11 years since “Groovin’”?

If you’re going to make a tribute to the King of Pop, it better be funky right off the bat – and it is!  “Another Part of Me” has an irrestible groove and some killer horn work.  That groove still leaves space for solos and the guys all weigh in with some short, sweet spots that give a great taster of what’s to come.  No way was “Billie Jean” going to be left off this playlist and the dancefloor rumble is replaced with a crisp rhythm that again allows some nice blowing and horn ensemble work.  Loving the flute touches that creep in here.  Norman Brown scats gorgeously on this song.  The instant I first heard him in 1994, I loved his sound – nothing’s changed.

Muted trumpet and brushes are absolutely the way to introduce the scintillating title track.  Sheléa’s lead vocal winds effortlessly around the classiest of musical backings.   Liberties are taken with some chord progressions and I love it.  A great song like this has a number of building blocks which talented guys like this can move around to suit themselves while remaining true to the original vibe.  It sounds like the Police are playing funk when you hear the reggae skip of “Beat It”.  This is done with such panache and wit that you’ll smile, I hope, just as much as I’m doing as I type this.  You won’t hear Eddie Van Halen but Mr. Brown burns more on this number than you’re maybe used to. 

Talking of burning, play some blues Norman!!  “Who’s Lovin’ You” from the Jackson Five era is treated to the smokiest, grittiest reverence you can imagine.  That muted trumpet dumps you in the Deep South and leaves you there.  Good Lord – I can only envy those lucky fans who will soon be hearing this live.  It’s deep!  Here’s the truth – I never much cared for the original version of “She’s Out of My Life”.  But then, I’d never heard Kirk Whalum’s sax almost crying on the melody.  I get so sick of instant musical gratification and crash-bang-whallop, and to enjoy its absolute antithesis is a treat for yours truly. 

I’ve never DJ’d and had an empty floor when I play “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”.  If I played this sexy Latin version, it would be no different.  It’s got the pizzazz of a Gloria Estefan show, but it has the jazz chops of Norman Brown to enjoy, some great piano – and strings, oh yes strings.  Play this as loud as you dare!  Solidly in contemporary jazz territory (yep, I’m never going to say “smooth jazz” in a review again) is the swinging “The Way you Make Me Feel”.  By now, the ridiculous ease with which these three guys trade lead lines and solos is apparent.  I’m smiling. 

Fans of jazz will love the dreamy “I Can’t Help It”.  If this were the last song I danced to in a club one night, I’d be happy and the song would echo round my head for days…  The doubled trumpet and flute lines caress you and the sax and guitar solos step in to tell their part of the story.  Lovely stereo mix through headphones – it shows someone cares.  I never miss a chance to shout out to the late, great Willie Hutch and “I’ll be There” is one of his greatest pieces of songwriting.  This moving tribute honours the melody and retains the optimism of this timeless song intact.  I’ve always been able to relate to and enjoy “Man in the Mirror” and with the gospel undertones that this version has, I find it particularly moving. 

How do I sum up an album like this?  And, do I really need to?  Great songs.  Great artists on superb form.  Great production.  How lucky we are to have music like this!



Heads Up International - HUI-34356-02   Produced by BWB with Dave Rideau and John Stoddart