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Al Jarreau: Accentuate the Positive

Much like the mighty Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau’s jazz cred has been unfairly tainted by his occasional forays into the populist world of pop hits (the theme from a certain Bruce Willis TV series leaps to mind). I can only hope that Accentuate the Positive (Verve), Jarreau’s triumphant follow-up to 2002’s terrific All I Got, prompts the jazz police to holster their weapons and embrace him for the genius he is.

Rather like a bountiful buffet, Accentuate can be divided into two delectable sections. The hors d’oeuvre course begins with a bracing “Cold Duck” (the celebrated Eddie Harris instrumental, here refitted with Jarreau’s own lyrics), then continues with four chestnuts-“The Nearness of You,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “My Foolish Heart” and “Midnight Sun”-brushed with Jarreau’s personal brand of honeyed marinade. With “Betty,” Jarreau’s rousing tribute, written with pianist Freddie Ravel, to pal Betty Carter, we get to the album’s real meat and potatoes. Add to it a rendition of “Waltz for Debby” more dreamily winsome than any I’ve heard, a tour-de-force scat-fest on Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop masterpiece “Groovin’ High,” a misty sojourn through Don Grolnick’s “Lotus” and the bring-in-da-funk “Scootcha-Booty,” and you’re talking gourmet banquet. And for desert? The sweet confection that is the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen title tune.

Produced by Tommy LiPuma and engineered by Al Schmitt, Accentuate stands as Jarreau’s most assured jazz outing since the same troika united to create the landmark Look to the Rainbow 27 years ago. Count on it to be a contender when Grammy time rolls around next year.

Originally Published