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Queen Latifah recorded one, and Rod Stewart has released two. That's right, pop stars are making jazz records these days. It was just a matter of time before the King of Pop headed to the studio to make his jazz album. With a maturing audience for his music, the forty-something fan base for Michael almost demanded this recording.
Like the legendary silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, who had his career sidelined by legal woes, the pop star had to move into new forms of entertainment. Ahem, more for adults and, well, less for children.
Jackson opens with the Billy Strayhorn classic "Lush Life" and yes, I understand he "...used to visit all the very gay places, those come-what-may places, Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life." Is it a reference to his Neverland amusement park? We'll never know, but the high-pitched voice offers quite the contrast to the classic performance by Johnny Hartman.
Kenny Barron's piano introduction to "Red Red Wine" with his two-note repetition at the end of each line hints at an underlying refrain of "Jesus juice." If it weren't for the 3/4 time signature and Ron Carter keeping time, this song would be a crime. Like the classic "Girl Talk," (think of Tony Bennett's version) with it's hip knowing recitation, nowhere in the jazz canon does one find a scat beginning with the mousy "hee-hee," but from Jacko's lips.
The accompanying DVD has Michael dancing on the top of an SUV to the classic "Freedom Suite." Sonny Rollins' 1960s civil rights statement gets a postmodern reworking here, complete with Michael holding a baby over a high rise balcony before moonwalking to the drum solo by brother Tito.
Perhaps the most touching moment is Michael's duet with Eric Anzalone. Remember him? The leather-clad, hairy dude from the Village People sings a duet with Jackson to the Art Blakey march rhythms of "Y.M.C.A.":
Young man, there's a place you can go. I said, young man, when you're short on your dough. You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find Many ways to have a good time.
Yes, this recording answers more questions than it asks.
Track Listing: Lush Life; Thank Heavens For Little Girls; Red Red Wine; Candyman; Beat It; The Freedom Suite;
Theme From Baretta; Girl Talk; Y.M.C.A.; I've Got You Under My Skin.
Personnel: Michael Jackson - Vocals; Kenny Barron - Piano; Eric Anzalone - Vocals; Ron Carter - Bass; Tito
Jackson - Drums; Nation of Islam - Security.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.