- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

Al Jarreau

Accentuate the Positive

Verve

Because the District has no decent jazz radio stations to speak of — and no, we’re not talking about “smooth jazz” here, but a true representation of America’s music — chances are you won’t hear any tracks from “Accentuate the Positive,” Al Jarreau’s latest CD, streaming on the airwaves.

That won’t matter to die-hard Jarreau fans and true jazz aficionados. They already will have picked up a copy by now and also can catch the five-time Grammy-winner live this weekend at the Warner Theatre (where he shares the bill with Oleta Adams).

“Positive,” a collection of standards, brings Mr. Jarreau full circle from his “Look to the Rainbow” heyday in the late 1970s. Eschewing the pop flavorings of his recent projects, he plays it straight-ahead and serves up some of his best work in years.

The acoustic album also reunites the former guidance counselor, 64, with “Rainbow” producer Tommy LiPuma, chairman of the Verve Record Group, Mr. Jarreau’s current label.

Unlike “Rainbow,” though, “Positive” is a studio rather than a live LP.

And the LiPuma-Jarreau collaboration shines once more.

His gymnastically agile chops honed to a T, Mr. Jarreau hews to the phrasing of such vocalese standard-bearers as Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson. He jump-starts “Positive” with a jolt of adrenaline on sax man Eddie Harris’ up-tempo “Cold Duck,” one of the album’s three musical evergreens on which Mr. Jarreau showcases his dexterity as a lyricist.

From there, he turns mellow on the classic “The Nearness of You” — then, before you notice, makes a seamless segue into Duke Ellington’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” a rendering textured by bassist Christian McBride and a sprinkling of Larry Goldings on the Hammond B-3.

Next up, a delicate bossa-nova treatment of “My Foolish Heart” allows Mr. Jarreau to flex his vocal might. By contrast, his take on “Midnight Sun” shimmers with quiet grace.

Shifting gears, he’s jauntily at ease with the album’s title track (aided by the blues stylings of keyboardist-arranger Larry Williams) and deftly tackles Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” and “Groovin’ High,” Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop tour de force. He turns tender once more on “Lotus,” perfectly pairing his lyrics with Don Grolnick’s ethereal melody.

The playful “Scootcha Booty” by Russell Ferrante brings the album to a less than stunning, but cheerful, conclusion, with the Yellowjackets founding member doing the keyboard honors on his composition.

“Accentuate the Positive” is Mr. Jarreau’s first release since being sidelined two years ago by back surgery.

Sometimes briefly stepping away from the spotlight can be a good thing.

Here, it has yielded a project that’s aptly titled.

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