Eleven years after their first collaboration, three former members of the Warner Bros. Jazz family are reunited. Trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and guitarist Norman Brown, BWB, are back with Human Nature (Heads Up, 2013), a tribute to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
The trio had performed together in various combinations and appeared as guests on one another’s albums before coming together with Groovin’ (WB Jazz, 2002). Since then, they continued to assist, individually or as a trio on subsequent recordings. Braun plays trumpet, flugelhorn and valve trumpet. Whalum plays tenor sax and flute. The rest of the band consists of Braylon Lacy, bass; Khari Parker, drums; John Stoddard, keyboards and background vocals; Lenny Castro, percussion; Ralph Lofton, Hammond B3 organ; and Shelea, guest vocalist on “Human Nature.”
The set begins in funky fashion. Aided by Lacy’s bass line groove, the trio of leaders takes on “Another Part of Me.” Braun, Whalum and Brown take turns on the melody, but all three converge on the main rhythm after a couple of passes. Each steps out doing his thing during the middle break.
All the tracks are good, but “Billie Jean” is one of the better arrangements. The rhythm track closely matches the original. Again, the lead is rotated during the verses, with the trio blending during the chorus. Braun and Whalum’s tracks are layered, as the former uses a muted instrument for some of the fills, and the latter injects flute for the same purpose. Brown brings some Benson-esque scatting to his solo. Parker plays the kit with flare.
The band gets down and dirty with some old-style blues for “Who’s Loving You.” From the slow, 3/4 rhythm to the throaty growl of Braun’s horn, this song is right at home in a smoke-filled juke house. The Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” sheds its disco clothing for something more suitable for a Latin club. Still very danceable, the arrangement has a Miami Sound Machine (“Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”) vibe.
Braun, Whalum and Brown, who have been friends for many years, selected the 11 songs for this project, each picking a few favorites. They cover some of Jackson’s most popular songs, including a few when he was with the Jackson 5 and as a solo artist.