Al Jarreau – Live At Montreux, 1993 – Eagle Records

Al Jarreau – Live At Montreux, 1993 – Eagle Records ER203992, 71:02 ****: 

A sure-footed musical exploration by Al Jarreau at his peak.

(Al Jarreau – vocals; Paulinho Da Costa – percussion; Steve Gadd – drums; Eric Gale – guitar; Marcus Miller – bass; Philippe Saisse – synthesizer; Joe Sample – keyboards; Patches Stewart – horns; Stacy Campbell, Sharon Young, Jeff Ramsey – backing vocals)

Early in his career, a jazz critic described Al Jarreau as “a singer with an orchestra in his throat”. When this album, Live At Montreux, was recorded on July 6,1993 at a performance at The Montreux Jazz Festival, Jarreau was 53 years old and in full control of his vocal facilities. The set list was a stroll through material with which Jarreau was fully familiar, yet also had a number of tunes that were new to his repertoire. Additionally the back-up band had a number of stellar and accomplished musicians, including drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Marcus Miller who been an integral part of one of Miles Davis’ groups, and keyboardist Joe Sample who was one of the founding members of the 1960 hard-bop band The Jazz Crusaders.

Jarreau persuasively begins the outing with his 1981 hit “We’re In This Love Together” with the opening funky piano work from Joe Sample who stays with the tune throughout. Jarreau’s vocal swoops and dives right through the number in fine form. The audience reaction to this number confirms its status as the centrepiece to his 1981 platinum selling-album Breaking Away. The next offering, “Try A Little Tenderness”, is ballad that had been around since the early ‘30s, and was covered by a plethora of artists including Bing Crosby. The most recent popular version was by Otis Redding in 1966, but Jarreau brought a new feel to the tune that had  an emotional yet up-beat vibe.

“Mas Que Nada” was written by Brazilian Jorge Ben Jor but popularized by Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66. Jarreau understands the Brazilian ethos attached to the number, and delivers a scintillating scat rendition that shows his versatility to delve into the tune’s intricate rhythmic structure. In 1955, Buddy Johnson penned “Save Your Love For Me” in a blues mode with lovely ascending and descending chord changes. Jarreau captures Johnson’s intentions with his own heartfelt version, including his trademark vocal gymnastics. Patches Stewart delivers fills in and around Jarreau’s vocal, with some tender muted trumpet.

For the final track of the session, the original Joe Sample R&B hit for The Crusaders in 1972, Put It Where You Want It was updated with a lyric from Jarreau and entitled “Puddit”. Remaining true  to its original underpinnings, Jarreau, the band, and the backup singers rock it out to great effect.

TrackList: We’re In This Love Together; Try A Little Tenderness; Summertime; We Got By; Mas Que Nada; She’s Leaving Home; You Don’t See Me; Save Your Love For Me; Your Song; Alonzo; Puddit ( Put It Where You Want)

—Pierre Giroux

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