Since the dawn of jazz, musicians have often based their improvisations on songs by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and other pop tunesmiths. Three of the biggest names in smooth jazz — trumpeter Rick Braun, tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and guitarist Norman Brown — have now joined forces as BWB to interpret tunes associated with Michael Jackson. On Human Nature, songs from the Off the Wall/Thriller/Bad era such as “She’s Out of My Life,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “The Way You Make Me Feel,” many of them penned by Jackson himself, come off nicely as instrumentals and are rendered with considerable sensitivity. The album also includes two songs from the Jackson 5 period, including the Smokey Robinson composition “Who’s Lovin’ You,” which is given a far more bluesy treatment than any of the numerous vocal versions that have been made since The Miracles first recorded it in 1960. The title track features a vocalist named Shelea — a smart move considering that an instrumental version had already been popularized by Miles Davis, Braun’s major influence.
Smooth jazz has gotten a bad rap — and often justly so — because of its extensive use of synthesizers and drum machines. However, with the decline of smooth-jazz radio formats in recent years, musicians have been freed up to record with live players — as Braun, Whalum, and Brown have done so marvelously on Human Nature. (Heads Up International)