Al Jarreau: The Very Best of: An Excellent Adventure (2009)
Al Jarreau is the most successful jazz singer of his time and has enjoyed a career that spans four decades. Oddly though, Jarreau has been never been represented with a career-spanning compilation, and his fans have been patiently waiting for a comprehensive overview.
They will have to keep waiting. An Excellent Adventure casts a wider net than the now out-of-print Best of Al Jarreau (Warner Brothers, 1996), but with only 16 tracks is far from definitive. There's too much good stuff missing; "Since I Fell For You," with Bob James and David Sanborn, and Jarreau's duet with Oleta Adams, "Waters of March," are two cuts that should be here. There is nothing at all from All Fly Home (Warner Bros., 1987), L is For Lover (Warner Bros., 1986), Tenderness (Reprise, 1994) or Heaven and Earth (Reprise, 1992). For the hardcore fan these are conspicuous omissions, but for those looking to scratch a bit deeper than just Jarreau's hits, An Excellent Adventure is as good as it gets for now.
Everything that might be expected on a retrospective of this seven-time Grammy-winning vocalist is here, including "Roof Garden," "We're In This Love Together," "Mornin'" and "Boogie Down." Two welcome additions Jarreau's "Just To Be Loved," from Tomorrow Today (GRP, 2000), and "Cold Duck," from Accentuate the Positive (GRP, 2004) featuring bassist Christian McBride.
The earlier Best of Al Jarreau collection had 16 songs. An Excellent Adventure does as well, but here compilation producer Fiona Frawley makes the smart decision to go deeper by including 1975's "We Got By" from the Reprise album of the same name, and "Rainbow In Your Eyes," from Glow (Reprise, 1976). These two selections serve as reminders of Jarreau's early jazz roots and act as bridges between his early jazz recordings and later mainstream R&B and pop hits.
Finally, Jarreau's vocal tour de force, "(Round, Round, Round) Blue Rondo A La Turk," is the ultimate showcase of his scatting skills and perfect phrasing. A lot of vocalists would tie their tongues into knots trying to pull off what Jarreau does with the Dave Brubeck classic. The Grammy that Jarreau took home for Best Male Jazz Vocal Performance, for this astonishingly bravura performance, was well-deserved.
There are a few problems that keep An Excellent Adventure from perfection. The most obvious one is the clunky and disappointing closer, "Excellent Adventure," a new recording which isn't the least bit excellent and sounding like a leftover from one of Jarreau's less inspired sessions. Frawley's decision not to sequence the songs chronologically is puzzling, as are the omission of any credits for musicians for the other 15 tracks.
Jarreau's discography is rich and varied enough to easily justify a multi-disc or box set. While it's nice to hear the digital remastering of Jarreau's songs, An Excellent Adventure is too piecemeal to truly be "the very best" of Al Jarreau. Hopefully, one day, Warner Brothers will see fit to produce the truly comprehensive representation of Jarreau's career that he deserves.
Track Listing: After All; Moonlighting; Never Givin' Up; Roof Garden; Spain (I Can Recall); Take Five (edit); We're In This Love Together; Rainbow In Your Eyes; Just to Be Loved; Cold Duck; We Got By; Boogie Down; (Round, Round, Round) Blue Rondo A La Turk; Mornin'; So Good; Excellent Adventure.
Personnel: Al Jarreau: vocals. Various musicians, including: Randy Bowland: guitar (16); Adam Blackstone: bass (16); Chris Farr: sax (16); Matt Cappy: trumpet (16); James Poyser: keyboards (16); Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson: drums (16); Dan Sadownick: percussion (16); Mercedes Martinez: backing vocals (16).