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Al Jarreau and the Metropole Orkest: Live

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In a career that now touches five decades, genre-blurring vocalist Al Jarreau has delivered surprisingly few live albums. Discounting 1994’s Tenderness (promoted as live but recorded in a studio before a small audience), this is only his third live outing and first since 1985’s dazzling Live in London . Captured over two nights in Den Bosch, Netherlands, and arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza, it serves as stunning testament to the septuagenarian’s indefatigable panache.

Backed by the 53-piece Metropole Orkest, Jarreau opens strong, scat-weaving his way through “Cold Duck” and softening the swing for a joyously majestic treatment of “Jacaranda Bougainvillea,” his ode to South African unity. While Jarreau’s trademark nasality remains as distinctive as ever, there’s no question that his vocal power has diminished. He is, however, canny enough to pace himself accordingly.

Mendoza, too, appreciates Jarreau’s limitations and strategically reduces the Orkest’s wall of sound to simmer when necessary: hence the comparatively temperate readings of “Flame,” “Agua de Beber” (for which Jarreau shapes a sensational intro) and “Something That You Said” that fill the playlist’s center. Jarreau’s “We’re in This Love Together,” though an obvious crowd-pleaser, is slightly creaky, never quite meshing. Still, he more than makes up for it with a sassy, percolating “Scootcha-Booty” and a closing “Spain” that is a seven-and-a-half-minute master class in showmanship.

Originally Published