Look to the Rainbow: Live in Europe – Al Jarreau (Warner Bros. – 1977)
by A. Scott Galloway
The first time most folks heard Al Jarreau, they had no idea who – let alone what – he was. The occasion: the last song on Side 2 of Quincy Jones’ Body Heat (A&M – 1974), the now-classic Quiet Storm nugget “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” which was a duet between songwriter Leon Ware and Minnie Riperton. Backstroking in a simmering stew of aquatic bass, African hand drums, enigmatic Fender Rhodes and Wah guitar, Al introduced himself as a human cabasa…the fox in the brush…the medium of the séance…the hippest of hosts announcing the arrival of Hubert Laws’ flute followed by the sensual sweet nothings of Ware (co-writer with Pam Sawyer) and Riperton, ever-ready to lobby ‘the sexy’ backatcha in triplicate. However, it was Jarreau’s disembodied wordless vocalese that set the scene of the otherworldly paradise. Who was this secret sauce of L’Q’s Soul-Jazz soufflé’?
Three years later, that voice came shadow boxing over the jazz airwaves live and direct from somewhere in Europe tearing into a vocal version of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” – like Ali going upside the head of Joe Frazier. His embodiment of percussion was immediately recognizable but he was also singing words that, up to that point, had only been wrung by Carmen McRae. The audience could not contain itself, serving up love to Jarreau as he served it right back in a volley like Arthur Ashe and Chris Evert. Their ears and ours were being treated to the sumptuous vocal smorgasbord that is Al Jarreau via a specially priced double album titled Look to the Rainbow, the artist’s third album following two little-heard studio LPs: We Got By (Reprise – 1975) and Glow (Reprise – 1976).
For many, it marked the beginning of a love affair with a man who was equal parts artful musician, vocal technician and melody magician. “Uncle Al” – the pride of Milwaukee – made the sun rise and the moon glow with songs and a sound that felt like kinfolk done dropped in on you with a slab, a “taste” and a sack full of stories. The warmth radiating from this album was a slow hot wind, lifted by Rhodes AND vibraphone, the latter played by someone actually named Lynn Blessing. We would later learn that Al had recorded We Got By at age 35 following master studies and application in the field of psychology. However, the version shared before this adoring overseas audience became the bedrock statement of Jarreau in grass roots mode…before he won his first of seven Grammy Awards for it.
Look to the Rainbow moves gracefully from the beautifully conversational love songs “Letter Perfect” (penned by Al) and “Rainbow In Your Eyes” (a Leon Russell cover) to the milk of human kindness primer “One Good Turn” (a song he would reprise in a special rerecording for Sesame Street’s In Harmony). Then there was the raging cry of a young Black boy desperate to be recognized on “You Don’t See Me,” the Sunday morning meditation “Burst In with The Dawn,” a soulful stroll through the Irish musical standard “Look to the Rainbow” and, of course, his electrifying take on “Take Five.” The experience closes like it began, with a nostalgic story of lovers at their most connected, fresh and frisky, “We Got By.” Who, with a heart beating in their chest, could possibly not adore this man???
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