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BWB: Groovin’

Combine smooth-jazz stalwarts Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown, call the CD Groovin’ and picture a woman in apparent ecstasy on the cover and you might think you’re in for a fairly run-of-the-mill NAC experience. But there’s something deeper going on. Although the setting is modern, the influences are late-’60s and early-’70s soul-jazz plucked from the CTI catalog, and the crack trio of keyboardist Ricky Peterson, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Gregory Hutchinson keeps the music honest.

As you’d expect, each artist gets his time in the spotlight. The three leaders have good chemistry together, and the CD’s vibe is fun and carefree throughout the 10 cover songs picked by producer and BWB creator Matt Pierson, Warner Bros.’ executive VP of jazz. Several tunes can be lifted for your next party mix: Start with the title track, a brassy homage to the Rascals’ biggest hit, and skip to “Hip Hug Her,” where Whalum flexes his throaty sound on the Booker T & the MG’s classic. Definitely include Curtis Mayfield’s “Let’s Do It Again”-hearing Brown scat in tune with his guitar with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater is a soul-jazz epiphany.

There’s a funkified version of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” a jivin’, hand-clappin’, party-in-the-background take on George Clinton’s “Up for the Down Stroke” and a drop-dead-classic version of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” with Brown taking the lead and Peterson dishing out organ side dishes. A dash of Philly soul injected into new songs-D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” and Alicia Keys’ “A Woman’s Worth”-keep the vibe alive.

Whalum teams up again on The Gospel According to Jazz (Chapter II), but this time it’s with his family. Like popster-preacher Al Green, Whalum, an ordained minister serving as an elder at the Strong Tower Bible Church in Franklin, Tenn., is on a mission. His latest spiritual musical tract follows 1998’s The Gospel According to Jazz (Chapter I) and 2000’s Grammy-nominated Hymns in the Garden.

There’s plenty of Christian praise offered on the live The Gospel According to Jazz (Chapter II), but the music can be enjoyed on a secular level. Listen to Jonathan Butler’s warm guitar picking on “Thy Kingdom Come” and your spirit will be moved, and you may find yourself humming along with the West Angeles Choir as it sweetly swings “Forever and ever, amen.” Butler proclaims his faith on “Falling in Love With Love,” while Whalum’s brother Kevin sings praise on the bluesy “Ta Ta You Jesus” and Tata Vega does the same, in Spanish, on “El Todopoderoso.” Whalum’s son Kyle finger-pops the electric bass lead on “Seasons.” And Kevin Whalum and Kim Burrell team up for a duo on “The Moment I Prayed” (recorded in a studio), an infectious number that closes the CD with bright singing, scatting and harmonizing a la the Manhattan Transfer.

There’s a little bit of spirituality in most of the best jazz records, whether intended or not. The history of jazz is linked to spirituals and revivals. Whalum’s gospel-jazz CDs are more overt but still welcome additions to his catalog.

Originally Published