Thursday, February 16, 2017

Breakin' Away

Al Jarreau, who died this past Sunday, was a singer who helped popularize jazz and brought a breezy, effortless style to his own records.  While his signature song, "We're In This Love Together," the hit single from his 1981 album Breakin' Away, might be heard as the very definition of early-eighties MOR, right down to its saxophone solo, the song showed that Jarreau's subtle phrasing and his earthy sensibility were very much in the jazz tradition.  He brought that same dexterous and clever vocal delivery to bear on other worthwhile songs such as "After All" and "Trouble In Paradise," as well as on his cover of the standard "Teach Me Tonight."
Even Jarreau's 1983 hit "Mornin'", possibly one of the silliest songs ever written - the lyrics find Jarreau saying good morning to his kitchen radio and his breakfast - shows his precise enunciation and his impeccable range.  When he sang on that record about how he could reach out and touch the face of God, his voice reaches a moment of transcendence few if any of his peers could reach.  In fact, of all the eighties pop singers rooted in jazz (and there weren't that many of them), only Anita Baker, who recently announced her retirement (ironically, Jarreau had announced his own retirement from touring a couple of days before his death) was in his league.
It seems poignant that Al Jarreau died on the night the 2017 Grammy Awards were presented, as he had been the recipient of seven such awards.  The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) certainly recognized his awesome talent, though when pop critic Robert Christgau called Jarreau "NARAS's idea of a jazz singer" and meant it as a calculated insult, he failed to realize what it was about Jarreau's abilities that made his music such a wonderful idea to contemplate.  RIP. :-(    

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