Bob Baldwin--Never Can Say Goodbye: A Tribute to Michael Jackson

Bob Baldwin, keyboardist and founder of the NewUrbanJazz Network, has always struck me as a most competent, perceptive, and very unassuming artist who always has his hand on the pulse of jazz, so much so that all of his musical efforts always capture the very essence of the genre almost effortlessly and regardless of what other genre he might be pursuing on any given project (Brazilian, hip hop, pop, R&B, whatever). Here with a sharp and classy tribute to the gloved one, the late great Michael Jackson, aptly titled Never Can Say Goodbye – A Tribute to Michael Jackson, Baldwin again presents his polished skills in that magnetic and seemingly humble Baldwin manner.

Baldwin chooses some of the smoother Jackson cuts and adds his own touching “Don’t Say Goodbye” in the mix. What’s truly impressive here is the ease with which Baldwin introduces the acoustic piano into these cuts in a way that makes it seem as though the tunes were written originally for piano only.  Of course, there’s more here than piano, as he gets stellar help from the likes of Chuck Loeb, Chieli Minucci, Joey Sommerville, Steve Oliver, Ron Jenkins, and others.   Even Ragan Whiteside, the talented flutist who won the Washington, DC-based Capital Jazz Fest competition a few years ago puts in a very worthy performance on the opening track, Baldwin’s slinky, funky mid-tempo interpretation of the notorious “Bad.”  Steve Oliver gets the opportunity to do his superb scatting thing on “The Girl Is Mine,” and you can just tell that he had been waiting for that moment, his moment, to make an MJ statement of his very own. He does so flawlessly.

There are moods created here. Moods that travel back to the MJ days, moods that bring you forward to the creativity of Bob Baldwin. Jazz is the order of the day here, but MJ’s presence can be felt throughout, and you just know that he’s nodding in approval with that warm smile of his.

As I mentioned above, this collection is mostly comprised of the lighter side of MJ; no “Billie Jean,” no “Beat It,” no “Thriller;” just many of the tunes that painted the ever sweet and moving portrait of the ultimate entertainer (e.g., “I’ll Be There,” “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” The Lady in My Life,” “She’s Out of My Life,” and the title track).

Baldwin’s formula is unstoppable. It manages to reinvent itself at will and put forth something that’s always deserving of one’s undivided attention.  All the while, the man’s humility and grace are equally as commendable.  His graciousness is reflected in his liner notes, as he writes:  “To the family and estate of Mr. Michael Jackson: It is of the highest honor to be able to work on this project. Thank you for the opportunity.” And we all thank you, Mr. Baldwin, for your part in keeping the musical legacy of MJ alive.  
--  Ronald Jackson