Al Jarreau at the Star Plaza
Star Plaza Theatre, Merrillville, Indiana
by Sidney Bechet-Mandela
Mister Smooth, Al Jarreau, came to this beautiful theatre nestled in the Northwest corner of Indiana in good spirits and very aware of where he was as he acknowledged the different colleges in the four state area after his first number. He reminded the audience that he was from just up the road in Milwaukee and that he felt right at home, and that he had a brand new band that he was ready to work out…. And that he did.
Bolstered further by the overwhelming positive response from the audience when he asked how many owned his new album ,Tomorrow Today, Jarreau performed an exhaustive well-paced 90 minute show in good humor and great voice. Throughout the performance, he chastised the people who didn’t fill the empty seats in nearly half the auditorium. “They’re at home listening to Dr. Dre,” he laughed before launching into a searing version of “So Good.” Afterwards, through the first of many sustained ovations, he very seriously said, “tell them to Dr. Dre that shit.
He danced, played percussion, scatted and displayed all those appealing qualities his live show has contained for years, but his new band, including his childhood friend Joe Torano, on sax and Verve recording artist Freddie Ravel on keyboards, put an extra charge into the singer seem to be on a higher level than when he toured with Joe Sample, George Duke and David Sanborn last summer.
Ravel excelled particularly on the Joe Zawinul tune A Remark You Made, which is on the singer’s new album re-titled Something That You Said. On the classic, Since I Fell For You, he brought down his background vocalist, Debbie Davis, who in turn, brought the house down.
He effectively mixed the new with his chestnuts, like Take Five, Morning, with many of the old tunes spiced with new arrangements, particularly the Grammy winning We’re In This Love Together, that found Jarreau slowing the tempo down and playing hide and seek with the melody throughout, even on the chorus.
The singer also seems to be returning more to his jazz roots as on a long medley that included Just To Be Loved By You, from the new album, his old hit, I Will Be Her For You, Jarreau added the standards Autumn Leaves, and Summetime. He labeled it “adult music.”
The band really gelled on the title track from Tomorrow Today, as every member of the seven-piece band also sung background, including the incredible percussionist/vocalist Arno Lucas, who in the 70’s led the great underrated group Crakin’. Lucas really smoked the congas and timbales on this Latin tune which Jarreau said had “lyrics for you mind, and salsa for your behind.”
And indeed the whole audience was on its feet moving to the groove, and before they could all sit down, Jarreau closed the show with a rousing version of George Duke’s very funky Dukey Stick, a total surprise that revved the dancers to a rock-show like frenzy.
The audience seemed exhausted at the end of the show, simply wrung by the energy of the youthful looking 60 year-old singer, who looking more fit as the years wear on. Even after the band left the stage, the audience refused to leave and so did Jarreau. It was a love affair after the show, and what a show it was..