My favorite memory of Al Jarreau comes back in the day when I saw him at a small campus nightclub named Bogart's. It was one of those places where you were up close and personal to the performer and Al was in fine form that night. To this day my wife and I fondly recall Al sipping a cup of water and belting out a spirited (and seemingly spontaneous) version of "Gimme That Wine."
So the idea of Al Jarreau tackling musical standards aided and abetted by his old producer Tommy LiPuma, backed by top musicians like Christian McBride, Peter Erksine and Larry Williams must have seemed in the planning stage like an idea that couldn't miss.
That's why it pains me to write a not so positive report about Accentuate the Positive
. I was primed to like the album, but that makes it's failure all the more distressing for me. What's the problem here? Essentially, I've never heard Jarreau's voice sound so tired and weak.
Maybe it's just my lyin' ears, but on "The Nearness of You" Jarreau sings in such a muted and flat tone that his voice barely registers at all. He goes noticeably off-key at one point and by the time the song wobbles to the end he's barely croaking out the last words. The same thing occurs to lesser effect with Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light." On "My Foolish Heart" Al just sounds terrible
! His vocals are so off that it's almost painful to hear such an accomplshed artist stumble so badly through a song.
Al's decision to "undersing" the material on Accentuate the Positive
and not overwhelm the songs with unneeded vocal acrobatics could be born out of the realization that these songs don't need any. However, as fragile as Al's voice it's also possible that it wasn't fully up to the challenge. In that vein of thinking, Jarreau's faltering performance brings to mind a champion athlete who can still knock down an open jump shot, but whose legs don't have quite the spring they once did and young kids will post him up all day long.
It's a commonly accepted belief that critics love to write nasty reviews and rip some poor musician a new one. Maybe some do, but life is too short to waste it on bad music and this is one of a handful of Al Jarreau albums that don't provide a single reason for repeat listening. Previously that tag could be hung on the overly commercial mess that was 1984's High Crime
. It took him 20 years, but Jarreau has made an album every bit as lame as that misfire.
More's the pity.