“I have missed the boat over my career by not doing every second or third CD live because things happen onstage that don’t happen in the studio. Something happens between me and an audience. It’s a communication. There are times when me and the audience are in the zone.”
Al Jarreau – SmoothViews interview November 2004
Well jump on that boat with Al Jarreau, the Metropole Orkest, and the lucky people who were part of the alchemy that happened on the two April nights in the Netherlands when these songs were recorded. As promised eight years ago right on this website and in the liner notes of this album “here we go for some mo'.”
This one, lovely readers, is pure Al Jarreau. Pure and fresh, not vintage. Vintage implies refinement of what has been done before and this album is about what he is doing now. Jarreau, Producer/Conductor/Arranger Vince Mendoza, Co-Producer Joe Turano, The Metropole Orkest, and a crowd of people who clap, yell, and sing along, have created a collection of songs that showcase Jarreau exactly as he is at this point in time and illuminate the perfection of that place. Don't let the orchestral concept make you think this is serious, archival, or cerebral. It's spirited and fun with knockout solos and instrumental twists and turns that veer from rock to jazz to big band to world music to cabaret intimacy, then spin it all together into these seamless arrangements that just flow around and through the songs. And what songs these are! Aside from the crowd pleasing hits “We're In This Love Together,” “After All” and his signature take on “Spain (I Can Recall)” most of these are 21st century songs that should have been wildly popular but instead flew under the radar the first time around. There are four songs from Accentuate The Positive, his 2004 jazz collection that may be one of the most underrated albums ever, Three songs were deep tracks from Tomorrow Today and All I Got and there is one delicious deep track from his early career.
The first indication that this isn't your average big band album is a searing electric guitar solo that kicks in about two minutes into the opening track. “Cold Duck” defines the tone of the set. Can brass and strings work on a song that is usually stripped down to its funky, bluesy essence? They actually make it sound even bigger, filling out the backbeat while Jarreau sings, scats, growls and even melodically chats his way thru his take on the Eddie Harris classic. The sequencing of the tracks is ideal here, which is what makes this an album to be experienced from start to finish. “Jacaranda Bougainvillea,” “Flame,” and “Something That You Said” are things of beauty that showcase Jarreau's gifts as a lyricist, as gentle orchestral flourishes create settings that allow you to hang on to every word. “Auga De Beber” opens with a goosebump inducing keyboard line then breaks into a spirited jazzy samba. The singalong hit “We're in This Love Together” is the bridge between the ultra contemporary and classic because it is followed by two standards he originally recorded on Accentuate The Positive. “I'm Beginning To See The Light” swings big and brassy and “Midnight Sun” puts you right in the middle of a romantic movie from the Great American Songbook era kissing a new found love as sunset meets street light. “Spain (I Can Recall)” also evokes a sense of place and showcases Jarreau's speed singing and scatting. The animated word play in “Scootcha Booty” veils some smart social commentary delivered with vocal percussion and a jaunty arrangement full of showcase solos.
Metrople Orkest is not just billed as a jazz big band, they proudly fly the pop music flag too. These virtuoso musicians play anything and everything and make it all sound effortless. Vince Mendoza has worked with an eclectic list of artists – Melody Gardot, Joni Mitchell, Sting, Bjork (!), The Yellowjackets, and Joe Zawinul to name a few. He is able to come up with material and arrangements that fit the songs and the artists and bring a lot of out-of-the-box originality to the sessions. This is also one of the rare live recordings that actually captures the feeling of exuberance that sweeps over the audience when a charismatic artist starts working his magic onstage. He is in fine voice here, Why do we always assume that as an artist matures it will be otherwise? If anything, this maturity has brought a depth of expressive nuance to his interpretations. The scatting and vocalese percussion are in full effect and he has really mined the lower range of his voice. He sings as fast as he always has and plays with a lot of vocal sounds but he has also zoned in on nuance and the layers of meaning that a voice can bring to a lyric. That puts you, the listener, in a place where you can just fall into the music and let your imagination put you on the front row, staring at the stage and feeling the connection with an artist who is singing just for you. It doesn't even matter if you are a “Jarreauniac” or a jazz fan because this collection of songs has nothing to do with generation or genre. It is a musical experience and it doesn't sound like anything else you own. That is why you should “Scootcha Booty” or your mouse to wherever you buy your music and make this one part of your summer soundtrack.