The Jazz Singer, by Charlie Braxton

Singer Al Jarreau is one of those ultra-rare artists whose artistry easily defies labels and categories. To traditional jazz fans, Jarreau is best known as a jazz singer whose penchant for head-spinning aural acrobatics took up the mantle of scatting and vocalese from the likes of Oscar Brown Jr. and the legendary Jon Hendricks of the vocal trio Lamberts, Hendricks and Ross. To many older fans of R&B, he is known for his sophisticated mixture of jazz and rhythm-and-blues.

By fusing elements of jazz, R&B and Brazilian music, Jarreau created a mature sound that easily found a home on both jazz and R&B radio in the '70s. For fans of '80s pop music, Al Jarreau is the guy who scored big with mega hits like "Mornin'." "Boogie Down" and "Roof Garden."

With his latest LP "Accentuate the Positive" (Verve, 2004), Al Jarreau returns to the source of his musical career by releasing a straight-ahead album packed with a mixture of instrumental tunes that he's written lyrics for along with a few jazz standards that the 70-year-old singer grew up listening to, and ultimately singing, as a young boy growing up in Milwaukee.

"Accentuate the Positive" opens with Eddie Harris' immortal tune "Cold Duck," which originally was a funky irreverent instrumental tune that Jarreau, in true vocalese fashion, penned lyrics to just for this album. The song has a wonderful rhythmic arrangement that leans to Jarreau's Brazilian influences. Jarreau uses the melody of the saxophone solo to wrap his lyrics about the '70s malt liquor.

Jarreau's sizzling rendition of Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington's song "The Nearness of You" is absolutely divine. Producer Tommy Li Puma's decision to drop the horn section and use a quartet featuring Larry Williams on piano, Anthony Wilson on guitar, Christian McBride on bass and Peter Erskine on drums gives the song the cozy sound that its theme demands.

For lighter tunes on "Accentuate the Positive," one need look no further than "Groovin' High," a Dizzy Gillespie tune to which Jarreau places a mixture of scatting and clever lyrics that match the highly percussive melody that Dizzy made famous. This is a track that will certainly please long-time fans of Jarreau, who have been longing for the percussive vocalism he displayed on the "Look to the Rainbow" album.

Another interesting tune is the album closer, a swinging tune called "Scootcha Booty," a tune by Russell Ferrante and Jarreau that celebrates the beauty of being able to bounce back from a bad situation. This song stands out as one of the highlights on the album because it has a breakdown that allows Russell Ferrante (piano) and Jarreau to engage in a wonderful, albeit brief, improvisational dialogue, which is one of the cornerstones upon which this wonderful music we call jazz was built.

With "Accentuate the Positive,"Al Jarreau proves that it's never too late to go home and get some creative rejuvenation. This is easily the best jazz album by a male vocalist this year.


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