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BWB plays King of Pop as jazz comes uptown

By Courtney Devores
Correspondent

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  • PREVIEW

    Uptown Charlotte Jazz Fest

    WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

    WHERE: Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.

    TICKETS: $60-$74.40.

    DETAILS: 800-745-3000; www.livenation.com.



It’s been four years since Michael Jackson’s death, and in that time, everyone from Cirque du Soleil to Prince has paid tribute to the King of Pop.

Jazz super group BWB – trumpeter Rick Braun, guitarist Norman Brown, and sax player Kirk Whalum – give several Jackson hits the smooth jazz treatment on the new album “Human Nature,” which was released a week before the June 25 anniversary.

“It was just a coincidence,” Braun says of the timing. “We wanted it to be available for the summer tour.”

That summer tour brings the all-star trio to Uptown Amphitheatre Saturday to headline the second night of the 4th Annual Uptown Charlotte Jazz Fest. Saturday’s other acts include Marion Meadows, Vincent Ingala, Paul Taylor, and Gregg Karukas. Friday’s bill includes Brian Culbertson, Peter White, and Euge Groove.

Braun, Brown and Whalum recorded the first BWB record over a decade ago. The current project gave them a chance to put a new spin on pop standards.

“Nobody in our smooth jazz/contemporary jazz world has undertaken recording his music. We thought it was time. We made a list of our favorite songs and ... came up with the must-do list.”

Braun’s wife insisted on “Billie Jean.” He also reimagined “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” as a Latin number, and a ska reggae version of “Beat It.”

Braun, who came up with the concept, spent a lot of time revisiting Jackson’s original recordings. With Brown in El Paso and Whalum in Memphis, the trio traded files of arrangements ideas online before convening in the studio.

“I wanted to keep the essence of the songs. There is layering of vocals and horns – such a full production that Quincy Jones put together for Michael. It was a matter of listening to it and picking out the elements of the song without having to go through the layering route because this is jazz.”

“Human Nature” bridges the mainstream and jazz for non-jazz listeners, much like Miles Davis taking on the ever familiar “My Favorite Things” or “Summertime” in 1960.

“The whole contemporary jazz/smooth jazz genre is about ... improvising and superimposing jazz ideas over top of more pop-like concepts,” Braun says. “It’s always been a joining of those worlds. So the challenge with this record is these songs were so recognizable and people were so used to hearing (the original versions). I think we came up with compelling, fresh ways to look at these great songs.”

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