Al Jarreau

Best of Al Jarreau [Warner Bros.]

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This is one intelligently programmed greatest-hits album, for after leading with two fine, new 1996 tracks, "Compared to What" and "Goodhands Tonight," the CD actually becomes a cogent chronological account of Jarreau's 20 years with the label -- and a most revealing one at that. Early Latin-flavored tracks from the mid-'70s, like "Agua de Beber," "Take Five," and "Spain," reveal a unique jazz voice with extraordinary rhythmic flexibility and an angular, scattershot, unpredictable approach to a tune that must have been as startling to audiences as Lambert, Hendricks & Ross were when they broke through. With "Never Givin' Up" and "Roof Garden," the transition away from jazz begins. By the time we reach the feel-good hit "Mornin'," the productions have become more intricate, polished, and comfortable, suitable either for dancing or making out, with little room for the old vocal spontaneity. And things go downhill from there. Curiously, one of Jarreau's best crossover albums, L Is for Lover, is ignored, but guest appearances on Bob James/David Sanborn's Double Vision ("Since I Fell for You") and Symphonic Bossa (a surprisingly lethargic "Like a Lover"), plus the saccharine theme from Moonlighting, are included. Jazz listeners who feel that Jarreau's talents had been gradually eroded by avarice in the record industry can present this program as Exhibit A, but at the same time, it serves as a good introduction for the newcomer and a fine refresher course for the faithful.

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