Review By: James Shatley
The reader should note that the Metropole Orkest, a 53-piece orchestra, is one of Europe’s most accomplished professional pop/jazz ensembles, dedicated to the refinement of orchestra music in the pop/jazz genres since 1945 and has played with artists such as Brian Eno, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and Gino Vannelli, just to name a few.
This live recording is a collection of eleven songs from a two-night engagement with the Metropole Orkest in Den Bosch, Netherlands. A mention for conductor and arranger Vince Mendoza (winner of numerous Grammys in his own right), the album sizzles with fresh arrangements from across Jarreau’s immense collection of music, of both covers and originals.
Jarreau is so comfortable with his voice and phrasing on this recording and I suppose that’s some of the mystique of his singing to begin with, making the music seem effortless. There is no mistaking his singular sound and his popularity worldwide. Jarreau slips between vocal styles, using his immense prowess, as natural as one would change stations on the radio dial.
First up, ‘Cold Duck’, a snappy syncopated ditty that gets the recording started with a bang! Festive with a slight nod to the beverage, Mr. Jarreau and orchestra stretch out their respective musical legs on this one. I cannot help but want to snap fingers or tap some shoe leather to this music. This song comes out joyous and loose.
Next, the lush and seductive ‘Jacaranda Bougainvillea’, a song that makes me want to sing along. Romance, with African & Brazilian flavors is the order here. I have to remind myself this is a live recording; the luxurious orchestrations, vocals and arrangements make this a favorite on the album.
Jarreau touches on all his periods on this album. ‘Flame’ is next. This love song, with his treatment, is so very expressive. Etta James said, “With jazz, you better leave that space open, or put in something real cool.” Jarreau is a master at giving the right expression and mood to each of his song, which is born out in this recording. His ‘cool’ is so VERY cool, relaxed and open that it’s easy to drift into another place and another mood.
‘Agua De Beber’ is a sweet bossa nova composition by Antonio Carlos Jobim that Jarreau did on his ‘Glow’ album and covers here with the orchestra. Jobim has never sounded so sweet. Light and swaying, this rendition conjures a stroll in Rio, with sounds and sights and imagination.
Next he covers Weather Reports’ ‘A Remark You Made’ titled ‘Something That You Said’. I must confess I prefer the original on ‘Heavy Weather’ but Jarreau takes this song and makes it his own. Beautiful harmonies with Pastorius’ original bass line make this love song dramatic and soulful.
‘We’re In This Love Together’ from ‘Breaking Away’ will be familiar to those fans that have followed Jarreau’s career from the beginning. This was his break out single in 1981 and I must confess I’m partial to the original, finding this a little loose for my tastes. That said, it’s still quite accessible.
‘I'm Beginning To See the Light’ really lets the orchestra strut its stuff. Jarreau takes a bit of a back seat to the band in this Duke Ellington standard. I love horns and if you do, you’ll see what I mean on this one!
‘Midnight Sun’, a Lionel Hampton standard, covered in the past by Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme’, Dianne Reeves, Diane Schuur and Sarah Vaughn, which is some heady company for anyone, but Al makes this rendition lovely and melodic, perhaps my favorite on this album. The full orchestra with his lilting vocals make, this a perfect cocktail song.
‘Scootcha-Booty’ co-written with Russ Ferrante and released previous on ‘Accentuate The Positive’ gets back to Jarreau’s scat roots. This song jams with energy and vibrancy. Try staying still on this one! Told ya!
‘After All’ written with David Foster & Jay Graydon (one of the best pop song writing duos ever) is one of his best pop songs and this rendition is every bit as emotionally charged as the original.
Finally, ‘Spain (I Can Recall)’ will be familiar to those Return To Forever and Chick Corea fans and this interpretation shows off Jarreau’s immense vocal control and precision. He takes his singing to places no ordinary singers dare venture on this song.
Getting to the heart of the matter, Al Jarreau is a colossal, singular talent the likes of which we may never be blessed with again. For those of you that enjoy Jazz vocals and rich orchestrations, this album is an absolute must. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Jarreau twice and this album comes as close to giving you, the listener a sense of what his performances are; vibrant, familiar, emotional and completely satisfying. True to his muse, Jarreau delivers and will not disappoint. If Longfellow said, “The human voice is the organ of the soul,” then surely Jarreau’s organ bares his soul for us all to enjoy.
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