Michael Jackson received the Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award at the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers convention Feb. 23 in San Diego. But the embattled singer must be even more gratified that this gathering of music merchants reacted enthusiastically to tracks from his upcoming Epic Records double-disc album “HIStory – Book 1.”

While this is a key endorsement for Jackson’s career rehabilitation, the merchants may have been less forthcoming if they’d known that the oft-delayed project still isn’t finished, contrary to what Jackson’s spin doctors had hinted.

According to Epic chairman Dave Glew, the album is not finished and confab attendees were treated to only portions of five songs during the label’s product presentation.

“Some of those tracks were rough (mixes),” Glew said. This would seem to contradict the leak proffered by Jackson handlers that the pop star’s two-disc set is ready for release.

Glew said he and other label execs visited Jackson in the studio a couple of weeks ago and heard 15 tracks from the eagerly awaited album, which will feature many of the singer’s past hits and a slew of potential new chart-toppers, including a duet with sister Janet.

The disc was originally set for a Christmas 1994 release, but that was later moved to February 1995. The label now only says “spring ’95” as the target release date.

“He usually doesn’t let his work go until it is totally finished,” said Glew.