Sunday, March 12, 2017

Voice Town

It's been too long but I am back to begin to get through some of the luminaries who've left the building in the last few months, each to be tributed on their respective birthdays.
First up is vocalist supremo Al Jarreau, who passed from respiratory failure in the middle of a tour exactly one month ago after a defining, nearly 50-year journey in music.
Born precisely ten years before and one day after percussive scat vocalist Bobby McFerrin (3.11.1950), he set the standard for modern scat singing and might have been the first to make that style his primary means of expression.
Of course many other vocalists from Ella Fitzgerald to Sarah Vaughan had that in their arsenal, and would utilize the wordless mode in the middle of a song. But with Al Jarreau, it became the song. Or started out there and ended even more so.
One of -- perhaps the -- original vocalist-as-percussion-instrument singers, he started doing it professionally fairly late in life, beginning in 1969 and dropping his first record in the mid-1970s at age 35. A few records later he scored a radio hit that was all over the airwaves in 1981, and proceeded into a smoother and more pop-sounding adaptation of his style.
For me, his truly mesmerizing innovations came on his first few releases, before he became a superstar. All subsequent singers who incorporate the elasticity and all-over-the-place, percussion-like style in what they do -- especially his fellow Pisces whom I mentioned earlier -- owe Al Jarreau a tremendous debt.
To honor his life of 76 years and his passing in February, we have a jewel of a PAL DVD from the moment of his advent upon the scene, recorded for German television right around the time of his first record. In the months following this incredible throwdown of a concert, he would star as the musical guest of episode #13 of NBC's Saturday Night Live and begin his meteoric rise to prominence.
Al Jarreau
NDR/Rolf Lieberman Studio
Hamburg, Germany

01 To Be
02 Letter Perfect
03 Your Song
04 Take Five
05 Susan
06 Stockings
07 You Don't See Me
08 Aladdin's Lamp
09 Somebody's Watching You
10 Lock All the Gates
11 Sweet Potato Pie
12 We Got By
13 Spirit

Total time: 1:24:23

Al Jarreau - vocals and percussion
Jerome Rimson - bass
Tom Canning - keyboards
Nigel Wilkinson - drums and percussion

PAL DVD of a master VHS from a 1990s digital satellite capture
This is almost an hour-and-a-half of this guy at his Jazziest, bursting out upon a unsuspecting musical landscape with real fire, and it's a superb capture as well so I'd encourage you to pull it out of the cloud and let its power warm you up for a proper Sunday feeling. As you do, remember what made Al Jarreau -- born this day in 1940 -- such a special talent, the likes of which won't likely come again in our lifetimes.--J.
3.12.1940 - 2.12.2017