Al Jarreau • My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke • Concord • US Release Date: August 5, 2014
On My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke, legendary jazz musician Al Jarreau delivers a tribute album to late, great musician George Duke, who died in 2013. Most of the songs on the album were written or co-written by Duke, but there are some exceptions. All in all, My Old Friend is a well-rounded album that’s certainly worth listening to.
“My Old Friend” ranks among the best of My Old Friend, as it should – it’s the title track. Both soulful and jazzy, Jarreau sounds exceptionally refined, despite being 74. Nothing else is able to supersede the glory of the opener. Gerald Albright’s smooth saxophone playing further accentuates the title track.
On the first George Duke penned song “Someday,” Jarreau receives a lovely assist courtesy of Dianne Reeves. The vocal chemistry between Jarreau and Reeves is strong – the pair works soundly. “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)” is co-written by Jarreau. Given Marcus Miller’s guest spot, it’s not surprising that the song takes on Miller’s urban-jazz musical lane. Miller’s bass playing is recognizable nearly everywhere. His bass clarinet solo is a welcome touch.
Albright returns for more on SomeBossa (Summer Breezin’), which much like bossa nova, is lighthearted and groovy. By no means is the wheel reinvented here, but Jarreau and Albright flex their muscles, aka musicianship. He gets one of R&B’s most lush, sultry voices to assist on “Sweet Baby” – the one and only Lalah Hathaway. The results are nothing short of beautiful. Both artists solo turns sound terrific, as do the duet portions.
“Every Reason to Smile/Wings of Love” is interesting because it combines two different songs. Jeffrey Osborne guests, a nice touch given he original performed and co-wrote the classic, “On The Wings of Love.” Osborne hasn’t had the presence he once had back-when, but his performance on this track exemplifies his vocal gifts.
After the up tempo “Every Reason to Smile/ Wings of Love,” things slow down and grow lusher on “No Rhyme, No Reason.” Well complemented by a powerhouse R&B/gospel singer (Kelly Price), consistency continues its prevalence on My Old Friend. “Bring Me Joy” trades Kelly Price for Boney James’ silky smooth saxophone playing. The low-key song definitely pays respect to George Duke’s multifaceted artistry.
“Brazilian Love Affair / Up from the Sea It Arose and Ate Rio in One Sweet Bite” once more finds Jarreau combining two Duke compositions. Once more, Dianne Reeves comes along to further enhance the musical experience. A scatting Al Jarreau is always an effective, fully engaged Al Jarreau. Dr. John joins Jarreau on closer “You Touch My Brain,” which is as consistent and as enjoyable as anything else.
How does My Old Friend stack up ultimately? It is a consistent and enjoyable tribute album that finds Jarreau sounding strong. There are some hints of ‘innovative spirit,’ but generally, My Old Friend is just a good vocal jazz/urban jazz album. And really, what’s wrong with that – nothing!
Favorites: “My Old Friend,” “SomeBossa (Summer Breezin’),” “Sweet Baby” “You Bring Me Joy”