Category Archives: Al Jarreau

Look To The Rainbow At 40: Al Jarreau Remembered For This Milestone Live Album Of 70’s The Jazz-Fusion Era

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Al Jarreau’s passing on February 12th of this past year has really brought to mind the many conceptions and misconceptions of his artistry from within my own personal lifetime. There really was no reasonable way to ignore the mans unique and astounding vocal artistry. But the songs he wrote and interpreted were just as musically busy and complex as his singing was. When exploring him in an album context, his 1977 live recording Look To The Rainbow was name dropped as superb example of his performance ability. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did of it six years ago.


Speaking for myself this may very well be destined to be one of the premier live jazz fusion albums of it’s era. One of the qualities that makes it so significant is the lack of the direct visual element. True Al Jarreau is,for better or worse depending on your tastes one of the most theatrical performers in jazz this side of Jon Hendricks,his most obvious influence and of course the incomparable Cab Calloway. Al put’s his entire body into the performance like a contortionist. You can see some of that in the photographs of this album.

After the release of his first two albums,1975’s We Got By and the following year’s Glow,he found that both these albums had become enormous critical successes stateside but (stereotypically) wound up enormous COMMERCIAL successes across Europe. Even winning German Grammy’s. It would take some retooling of his approach before he’d get the same treatment in his home country. But Al’s vocal and songwriting talents made such a massive wave during the following European tour that he made this album based on his performances there. The results capture more than great music. But an artist in an important place and time as well.

Recorded with a small group fusion quartet of keyboardist Tom Canning,drummer Joe Correro,bass player Abraham Laboriel and vibraphone player Lynn Blessing this album doesn’t have an enormous instrumental sound.The idea is to focus on Al’s well renowned pipes. Even Al himself said at some times the vocalist side of him got in the way of the singer. Although strongly emphasizing his own excellent compositions the interpretive element of his talent gets the perfect showcase here.

Of course there’s the live rendition of Leon Russell’s “Rainbow In Your Eyes” which here is given the extra vocalese treatment from Jarreau. On “Better Than Anything” and the title song you get much the same quality. His take on the Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck standard “Take Five” however is the heart and soul of this album to me,with Al improvising along with the songs already unexpected time changes and charging by songs end into this…well display of sheer vocal improvisation you’d just have to hear to believe. I

t’s intelligent and exciting and the audience can’t help but applaud midway through. I know I’d have been. On “Burst In With The Dawn” and “One Good Turn” he turns up the soulful/gospel flavor in his sound. And is equally at his sophistifunk best with “You Don’t See Me” and the “new” number “Loving You”,concluding everything with a show stopping rendition of the title song of his debut album.

One of the things that makes this such a special album is that is showcases everything that was positive and musically enriching about what Al Jarreau had to offer in the beginning of his professional recording career. You get the vocalese drama and distinctive timbre that’s got him attention then and ever since. You get a good sampling of the best of his songwriting he’d done thus far. You also get his abilities as an interpretive vocalist-from the worlds of pop,jazz and funk.

It’s once been said of the great American composer Duke Ellington that he often seemed to create kind of an all encompassing music that borrowed from many sources but maintain his distinctive sound,in his case referred to as “Ellingtonia”. I tend to think of Al Jarreau that way too. He integrates many of the influences that are meaningful to him into a one sound that you somehow know is very much his own.

And his producers and musicians working close to him are also able to find ways to bring this quality out on record in many different ways. This particular album shows that unique flavor translated just as easily from the album,onto the stage and in this case back onto an album again. Just goes to show how Al Jarreau,especially early in his career could work on so many levels.


Look To The Rainbow represents Al Jarreau as a shining example that the artistry of Jon Hendrix,Johnny Mathis,Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck were not truly lost when jazz went electric,as was the commonly held wisdom for some time. Much as with George Benson, the perception that Al Jarreau made his sound more commercial is misinterpreted. Jarreau began his major label recording career as a funk/soul/pop artist who had a jazzy vocal and writing approach. And took on jazz standards with the same vigor. This album brought out that quality in a significant way.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Roof Garden” by Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau’s artistry as a world class vocalist/singer has seldom been disputed. Though there was a time when it was said that,after the mid 70’s,Jarreau abandoned jazz for pop crossover. Its an age old argument. And honestly,it usually derives from ignorance. In Jarreau’s case,his musical and vocal approach always remained squarely rooted in jazz. From the vocalese/scat and tremolo effects of his musical heroes Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis to the arrangements of the music itself,Jarreau was one of a handful of jazz vocalists who could bring improvisation to a wider audience with a pop/funk musical twist.

Jarreau’s best known album was 1981’s Breakin Away. It was a Jay Graydon production. Graydon,like Rod Temperton,was a figure who really knows how to deliver soulful and funky music that has a strong jazz flavor to it. This style was extremely well suited for Jarreau’s jazz approach,since it was still required to make the whole thing work. And it was a massive (and in my opinion deserved) crossover triumph. And it spawned his best known hit with the mid tempo ballad “We’re In This Love Together”. While spawning two more big hits,a favorite of mine and many fans of Jarreau on this album is “Roof Garden”.

Its the trio of Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements,Steve Gadd’s impeccable funky shuffle and George Duke’s strutting Fender Rhodes that starts off this song with Jarreau’s spoken word/scat intro. Of course Abraham Laboriel’s stomping bass line is right along for the right. On the choruses,Jarreau is singing like a chocked,muted trumpet alongside Graydon’s liquid guitar. On the refrains,the horns and drums lock themselves into a dramatic big band swing style melodic arrangement. The bridge finds Jarreau scatting with Duke’s Rhodes until the big horn,choral and lead vocal part the fades out the song.

“Roof Garden” is one of my personal favorite Al Jarreau numbers. Its got so much high stepping,high strutting jazz/funk personality. Everything from the bass/guitar interaction to the horns is locked right into place. Jarreau was alternately comical and sassy on this song vocally. Especially singing lines at the beginning like “hang on,what ‘cha mama gonna say if she found you in a spot like this”. Jarreau delivered on every strength he had: improvising complex scales,scatting and vocalese of many sorts. While its still hard to believe he’s no longer with us,jazz funk like this will assure his sound will endure.

 

 

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Al Jarreau (1940-2017): We Thank You For Your Service,But Do We Have You Covered?

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Al Jarreau is one of those artists whose followed me from my first understandings of music to the present day.  “We’re In This Love Together” is one of the first pop song memories I have from a sentimental standpoint. Jarreau’s voice is now the creature of massive creative and commercial recognition-by everyone from music critics to the Grammy Awards.  Now its come to the realization that admiring Al Jarreau’s vocals is to understand the improvisational technique and unique phrasing of Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis. And that’s the way I will always think of the man.

Sadly,Mister Jarreau is no longer with us. A week ago,he cancelled his recent tour and announced his retirement. And yesterday my friend Henrique said he was no longer with us. He was exactly one month shy of his 77th birthday. Jarreau was an extremely successful man as an artist. A seven time Grammy winner (and 20 time nominee) from 1979-2013,he was also the recipient of two honorary doctorate degrees in music. The most significant part of this legacy was that his major label debut album didn’t get recorded or released until Jarreau was 35 years old.

Born in Millwakee,Wisconsin Jarreau graduated from Ripton College,and started a career as a rehabilitation counselor. By 1968, Jarreau was totally devoted to music after years of great success in the California bay area club scene. By 1975,he was signed to Warner Bros. records and recorded his major label debut We Got By. It started a precedence for the man writing songs that matched his distinctive vocals. These were chordally busy songs,always accompanied by the cream of the crop of jazz players of that era such as-which would go on to include the likes of Lee Ritenour,Freddie Hubbard and Paulinho Da Costa.

Al Jarreau’s vocal instrument was as idiosyncratic as it was ingenious. He was able to cross heavy jazz improvisational vocals over for funk,soul and pop listener’s with great success. That meant that his major breakout album Breakin Away could contain the urban classic “We’re In This Love Together” along with a show stopping performance of Dave Brubeck’s jazz standard “Blue Rondo Ala Turk”. How many crossover jazz singers of the mid 70’s to early 80’s can any of us say that about? There’s a lot of Jarreau’s music I have yet to hear. But even though he’s gone now,there’s much more to say of his musical legacy.

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Anatomy of THE Groove 8/15/2014-Andre’s Pick: “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual) by Al Jarreau featuring Marcus Miller

George Duke was one of those musical figures that I personally found creatively inspirational. In his lifetime,he was able to fulfill his artistic promise of being able to be a siphon of the musical spirit that lay behind Duke Ellington,P-Funk,Frank Zappa,Earth Wind & Fire and Milton Nachimento-all coming from the source of one musical mind. When he passed away,all too soon,last year? It seemed inevitable that a tribute would come from someone,someday.
And in only a years time for his birthday? Creative collaborator and friend Al Jarreau got some of Duke’s musical compatriots-both vocalists and instrumentalists for the special tribute album My Old Friend. One of the songs presented was an unheard number written collaboratively by Duke and Jarreau called “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)”-featuring one of my favorite living bassists in the jazz-funk vein in Mr. Marcus Miller.

Marcus,who plays most of the instruments on this song opens with a cinematic synthesizer orchestration before Jarreau chimes in with a very Afrocentric vocalese chant-after which Marcus’s slap bass comes in with Mike Cottone’s muted,”cool jazz” styled trumped solo-the tone of which Jarreau replicates with his soft,slow vocalizing. On the refrains,Jarreau delivers a deep descending vocal. On the bridge,a beautiful melange of sax,trumpet and electric piano segues out of the song with the same mixture of cinematic orchestration with Jarreau’s chants that began the song.

This is one of those songs that…really quite brilliantly fuses vocal jazz improvisation with a funk rhythmic approach. With its use of blue notes and Marcus’s own knack for expression the late George Duke’s love of instrumental texturization? The imaginative, somewhat mysical orientation of the music goes ideally with the somewhat faintly performed and even obsure lyrical content. From what I can gather of it,this is a song about the complex interpersonal relationship black Americans have with spirituality. And with a song with song a deeply propulsive funk groove and jazz harmonics? It makes that point beautifully.

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