|Al Jarreau at Ronnie Scott’s Photo credit: Benjamin Amure|
(Ronnie Scott’s, second show on Thursday 2nd April 2015. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
According to Ronnie Scott’s MC Paul Pace, the Milwaukee-born singer Al Jarreau first appeared at the club in 1976. That same year, he recorded his second album, “Glow”, which contained the opening song of tonight’s show, Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Your Song. It was a gentle introduction to an 80-minute set (the last of four performances at the club) that included several easy listening hits, a couple of classic songs and some short, hard-hitting interludes.
Early on, one felt that the fabulous blast of Jaco Pastorius’ Teen Town was about to give the middle-aged romantics in the audience an apoplexy, but it was quickly succeeded by the familiar and reassuring Mornin’, which will have calmed them down again. Jarreau’s tender side was also highlighted on We’re in this Love Together; Says, from the 1986 album with Nile Rodgers “L is for Lover”, and – in a tribute to his old colleague George Duke – My Old Friend.
Jarreau was surrounded by five loyal, first-rate musicians. His association with keyboardist (and flautist) Larry Williams – who has worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and Quincy Jones – goes back to the early 80s. Tenor, alto and soprano saxophonist Joe Turano added guts to the lighter pieces, and guitarist John Calderon used both electric and acoustic instruments for melodic variety. Chris Walker on bass guitar, and drummer Mark Simmons were rarely in the spotlight, but they provided a backdrop that was both solid and flexible. During an all-too-brief snatch of Marcus Miller’s Tutu, these men proved their worth.
With a whisper, Jarreau counted numbers and burbled manically in a brilliantly-conceived introduction to Take Five. Wordless at first – then with lyrics – it morphed into Blue Rondo à la Turk, and this tour de force was completed by a magnificent coda that featured a counter-melody sung by Turano. No-one wanted to hear Jarreau fail, although two songs in particular might well have exposed a weakness in his technique. In the event, the difficult ballad Midnight Sun and the lovely waltz Better than Anything showed him at his finest: his voice swooped from the deepest lows to a well-controlled falsetto. He sang and scatted with wonderful timing.
Wearing a black beret throughout (and looking uncannily like Samuel L Jackson), 75 year old Jarreau spoke eloquently about his ability to continue to travel the world to play music. “We are kinfolk inside”, he said, “It brings us together”. He didn’t mention the debilitating illnesses that he has endured in recent years, but when he said “You are watching a dream come true”, you knew that he meant it.
After the almost-obligatory communal clap-along towards the end, the encore of Summertime came with a funky rhythm set up by Jarreau, a strong backbeat, and a fine guitar solo. The performance was a slick one, certainly, but it was damn good and delivered with real passion.
An hour and a half after he’d finished, and well into the early hours, Jarreau was digging the excellent “Late Late Show” – with Nigel Price, Leon Greening, Tim Thornton and Matt Home – from the side of the stage. He was, without question, the coolest dude in town this week.