Accentuate the Positive
, Al Jarreau’s latest CD and his third with the GRP label, is exactly what the title implies: a positively good time by one of the world’s premiere vocalists.
The five-time Grammy winner is in top form - as always - on this release.While Jarreau has delved into more mainstream pop and R&B formats, sprinkling in some superb jazz, this is his first release in many years that sticks to his jazz roots. With a supporting cast that includes such names as Christian McBride, Peter Erskine, Larry Goldings and Russell Ferrante, Jarreau steers clear of the tried-and-true method of belting out the familiar, often-covered jazz standards. Instead, he captures lesser-known fare like Eddie Harris’ Cold Duck Time
. It’s a fast start to an engaging album.
The ensemble slows it down with the charming ballad, The Nearness of You
. The tempo picks up on I’m Beginning to See the Light
, a delicious slice of breezy vocal/organ swing that features Larry Goldings on the Hammond B3, which is widely recognized as the top of the line organ for playing jazz or blues - perhaps even other music. Goldings’ fingering, combined with Jarreau’s vocal accentuation, make this one for numerous repeat plays.
One jazz standard that does appear on this album is My Foolish Heart
, which Jarreau and friends treat with a mild, bossa nova flavoring. That’s followed by another ballad, Ben Webster’s languid Midnight Sun
The title song, a jazzy, soul bop rendition of a Johnny Mercer tune, features Jarreau’s trademark vocal accents and inflections. The ensemble is so loose with this song, one gets the impression they were making it up as they went. Making things up, or improvisation, is an essential element of jazz that’s often lacking in studio recordings. However, Jarreau’s treatment of the Mercer classic gives the idea that he and his bandmates knew where they were going, but didn’t know how they were going to get there. They just knew that whichever route was taken, it was going to be a fun ride.
Things slow down again with Betty
, penned by Jarreau and pianist Freddie Ravel. It’s an elegant jazz waltz tribute to the late jazz singer Betty Carter. Jarreau keeps it in low gear for a tender interpretation of Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby
, the album’s tour-de-force, is a dazzling tribute to the Dizzy Gillespie classic, including references to the bandleader’s classic Night in Tunisia
. Jarreau turns loose with some all-out scatting and bubbling lyrics. Then the ensemble tacks Jarreau’s lyrics and a soft samba groove onto Don Grolnick’s Lotus
, making it a ballad worthy of Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Winding things up is the Jarreau/Ferrante collaboration, Scootcha-Booty
, a funky, scat-tinted piece that leaves the listener with a smile. It’s a joyous way to close an already feel-good album.