BWB: Flurry of upbeat groove by super trio

B.W.B. (Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum, and Rick Braun)
Artistry Music, 2016

Album Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

CD Design / Art: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

By Phillip Martin

This past April, a trio of smooth jazz musicians released a new album packed with upbeat and gleeful grooves.

BWB, the newly self-titled release, is the third collaboration by guitarist Norman Brown, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and flugelhorn and trumpet player Rick Braun. Although it’s been three years since the super group’s previous record, their latest release is definitely worth the short wait.

(Left to right) Decked out, Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum, and Rick Braun adorn the front cover of their latest release, self-titled BWB.

The synergy among the three talents and their fun-filled sounds characterize this new album. Some tracks might remind middle-aged listeners of “the good ole days” of their youth. Other listeners may bob their heads or tap their toes to the ebullient horn play by Whalum and Braun. Some might enjoy Brown’s signature guitar riffs as he plays along with the other two on the carefree rhythms. Then, others might sing along to the vocals the musicians provide on a few tracks. Either way, BWB is a must-have album contemporary jazz lovers should purchase for this summer.

“Triple Dare” opens the album with a layered melody by Whalum and Braun’s sax and horn. You don’t want to miss Whalum’s solo around the 1:50 mark. Braun adds his own solo about 25 seconds later. Brown then closes the track with his guitar.

Next is a catchy track titled “Bust A Move.” In between the upbeat jam, the three musicians sing:

“You think you got something kinda hot.
“Go ‘head and bust a move, baby. Bust a move, baby.
“If teeny, tiny or if you got a lot.
“Go ‘head and bust a move, baby. Bust a move, baby.”

Along with the lyrics, you’ll hear what sounds like a synth bass in this song. You’ll hear this distinct sound especially behind a short solo by Brown in the middle of this track.

The fun continues with the title track, “BWB.” This soft jam climbed into the top five of Billboard’s “Smooth Jazz Songs” chart in the month of May. The song topped the chart on the week of May 21.

After the title track, the trio plays an interesting fourth song. In “Bolly Pop,” the musicians sing “India, turn it up real loud. India, can you do the Bolly Pop? Whoa…” In between the vocals, you’ll hear ethnic sounds that represent the subcontinent.

The tempo slows down and the mood settles in “I Want You Girl.” This very soft track sounds like a light jazz ballad. Whalum’s saxophone sounds prominently throughout this elegant track.

Perhaps the funnest tune on the second half of the album is “Lemonade.” It might even make you thirsty on a humid and scorching day this summer. Once again, B.W.B. sing on this track. You’ll hear the trio sing first:

“That’s what you got to do with those lemons.
“You’ve got to make some lemonade.
“That’s what you got to do with those lemons.”

The next three songs each present signature sounds of each musician, respectfully. “Memphis Steppin’” features guitar riffs by Brown typically heard throughout his own solo discography. In a similar fashion, you’ll hear Whalum’s saxophone on “Hey Baby.” The pattern is set, as Braun plays his style of horn in “North Star.”

Finally, the trio closes the lively album with “Turn Up.” It seems that this track sounds funky like many upbeat jams Brian Culbertson has played throughout his career. Nevertheless, this final cut features a few vocals and brief instrumentals to a basic guitar beat.

B.W.B. as solo artists:

• Norman Brown is no stranger to collaborations. Four years ago, he teamed up with sax player Gerald Albright on their album titled 24/7. Brown also teamed up with guitarist and producer Paul Brown. Paul produced Norman’s Just Chillin’ from 2002, for which both earned a Grammy Award the following year for Best Pop Instrumental Album. It is also important to note that one of Brown’s popular songs is “Let’s Take a Ride,” from nine years ago. Another song of his I enjoy is “That’s The Way Love Goes.”

• Kirk Whalum emerged after his pairing with Whitney Houston. His sax solo can be heard on her historic single “I Will Always Love You.” So far he has earned a total of 12 Grammy nominations. He most recently earned one this past year for The Gospel According to Jazz Chapter IV.

• Rick Braun too has performed with other popular smooth jazz artists. In the year 2000, he and Boney James released Shake It Up. Their remake of “Grazin’ In The Grass” is perhaps the most popular song on that album. Shortly after co-founding what is today known as Artistry Music with Richard Elliot, the two released an album together titled R n R. “Notorius” and “Kisses In The Rain” are songs I enjoy by Braun.


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