Alwin Lopez “Al” Jarreau (March 12, 1940 – February 12, 2017)
There are so many “partnership” albums around – always have been, I guess – that sometimes it seems as if the choice of artists is more about showing something different than about being musically valid. No such problem exists with this new offering on the Concord label, Givin’ It Up, with George Benson and Al Jarreau. They mesh perfectly and naturally, and the result is a rich assortment of smooth and enjoyable sounds.
The longtime friends, who are both multiple Grammy winners with numerous gold and platinum releases, have united on an album for the first time. Benson is a legendary guitarist in addition to the singing and song-writing talents that both he and Jarreau possess, and he gets some chances to exhibit his playing ability in addition to his voice, while Jarreau shows off the versatility of his pipes with a variety of styles, including exhibiting a little scat singing.
The talent level in the album is nothing short of amazing. In addition to the two stars themselves, there are a number of outstanding pros – most of whom are also headliners – used as sidemen. These include Herbie Hancock on piano, saxophonist Marion Meadows, Chris Botti on trumpet, and either Stanley Clarke or Marcus Miller on bass.
If that’s still not enough, vocalists Patti Austin and Jill Scott each come aboard for a selection.Patti adds a sultry, smokey sound to a new song written by Jarreau, “Let It Rain”, (one of four new songs on the album) and Jill joins him on a joyful version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless This Child”, a favorite of mine. The final guest star – Paul McCartney – wanders into the studio to jump in with the group on the last cut, an enjoyable version of Sam Cooke’s hit, “Bring It On Home To Me”.
There are 13 strong tracks on the album and there’s a diversity to the mix that’s almost endless. Examples include an instrumental version of John Legend’s Grammy-winning “Ordinary People”, and new vocal versions of Miles Davis’ “Four” and “Long Gone Tutu”. And then there’s a pair of songs that’s kind of a gimmick, but it works. “Breezin” features Jarreau adding lyrics to Benson’s instrumental hit, and “Mornin'” showcases Benson returning the favor by doing an instrumental version of Jarreau’s classic. Great idea, done well.
Every song on the album is worth a listen, with Benson’s guitar and voice in fine form, and the addition of Jarreau’s ability to sing different styles while never losing his ability to entertain. You’ll enjoy this brand new release, especially if you’re a fan of the artists.