Al Jarreau’s first three albums,including one amazing live set the previous year all earned him a lot of critical acclaim. At the same time Al seemed to be seeking the same sort of commercial success he had overseas in his own country. Somehow it seemed that succeeding in jazz in American meant succeeding mainly with writers and critics. Which may have a little to do with why so many fans of the music began leaving it behind. So the best compromise for Al, who had no intention of abandoning his home grown vocal and writing talent,was through the sounds of soul and funk music.
The songs were flexible enough to allow for a lot of uncut jazz influence. But were,at least during the 70’s anyway also able to offer the possibility of American radio play and chart success. Al Jarreau wasn’t the only one taking this route. And as we all know the writers and critics had a field day of negativity with the idea. But creatively it wasn’t unsound and helped create at least a couple sub genres of music along the way: fusion and later smooth jazz. But what does this say for Al himself? Happily to my ears, this is one of the finest overall records Al Jarreau made in the 70’s.
Part of it is he’s still very much in his early and more jazz oriented phase. But he’s bringing somewhat more of a pop flavor into it too. “Thinkin’ About It Too” and “Wait A Little While” are sprightly uptempo pop/funk tunes-filled with somewhat abstract bass synthesizers,strong melodies and guess what? That vocal is still Al Jarreau being every bit himself. On “I’m Home” and “I Do” he’s back in his mainstay 70’s element: spare, electric piano based jazzy ballads that emphasize his style of vocalese. “Brite N’ Sunny Babe” and “All” both bring this bassy, mid tempo EWF/Charles Stepney style production.
Within this high level of musical joy, there’s also a version of the sad Lennon/McCartney pop standard “She’s Leaving Home”. I don’t know why people don’t seem to like it. Al, doing his own harmonies same as McCartney on the original, sings the song with just the right amount of shock,regret and disappointment the lyrics require.On the more abstract of interpretations is the closing “Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay”. Done up in this startlingly unique stop and start funk-jazz arrangement Al completely re-harmonizes the song almost all in the minor chords.
For an album intended as something with more crossover potential compared to his earlier recordings, its very much in line with those albums for many reasons. All Fly Home’s primary focus is still on self written vocal numbers- based primarily in jazz. And any influences of pop, R&B, funk or anything else in the music really never takes away from the main focus. This is probably one of his most successful albums in terms of his crossover period in that regard. If there are contemporary elements strongly at work here, you can tell Al Jarreau and his band are still firmly in control.