Versatility and excellence have been the hallmarks of vocalist Al Jarreau’s appeal and success since he broke out of the supper club/cabaret/nightclub underground and into the mainstream ranks during the mid-70s.
Jarreau consistently demonstrated during an exhaustive, two-set show Sunday night at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center that an orchestral background neither threatens nor overwhelms his rangy, still dynamic and distinctive voice.
The Nashville Symphony proved ideal collaborators for an evening that spotlighted both hits and obscurities, classical and Broadway tunes as well as jazz standards, scat numbers and even an occasional pop or R&B number.
The evening was the ideal way for music fans to enjoy and appreciate vocal and instrumental greatness, and to also savor the fact the Nashville Symphony and its litany of programs survived the fiscal woes that dominated headlines for weeks.
Early in his 60-minute plus first set, Jarreau reached back to his beginnings for medleys that included energetic versions of audience favorites like “We Got By” and the “Theme from Moonlighting.” He drew some laughs for asking whether there were any folks out there who ever saw the show. “Boogie Down” was another number that got immediate and widespread reaction, as well as a serene version of “After All.”
Interestingly, despite his extensive background within the jazz world and obvious love for the genre, Jarreau never fared particularly well in some critical circles. He commented after a stirring version of Eddie Harris’ “Cold Duck Time” that the song had been previously featured on “what I thought was a real good jazz album (“Accentuate The Positive”), but some others didn’t think so.”
He frequently demonstrated his facility for vocal improvising and instrumental mimicry. Sometimes he would imitate drums, other times guitar or keyboards. He also performed several lengthy scat montages, using them as transitional bridges within bridges or just for crowd-pleasing diversion. Jarreau included a masterful version of “Summertime” as the centerpiece for a three-song Gershwin section before he closed the first set in exuberant fashion.
At one point, Jarreau joked that at his age (74) he didn’t do much night life anymore, but he didn’t slow down during his second set, though it was a bit shorter (about 50 minutes plus encore). He dipped into the classical and Latin realms, but also offered fabulous extended versions of “Take 5” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” Jarreau added between the tunes that “I told Dave Brubeck that I know he wrote the song but I also think you owe me some money for my version.”
He never seemed out of quips or energy throughout the evening, and the second set ended with an explosive blend of Chick Corea’s “Spain” that followed an equally moving rendition of the introduction from Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the Nashville Symphony.
Jarreau even presented a bonus with a two-song, 20-minute encore before finally departing. The superb concert showed the near capacity crowd that he’s not lost his zeal or flair, no matter how many decades he’s been on stage.