Al Jarreau on My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke (Concord **** RECOMMENDED) honours the legacy of keyboardist George Duke who died last year and whose friendship with Duke went back to the mid-1960s when Jarreau was working as a social worker in San Francisco. With guest appearances by Gerald Albright, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Lalah Hathaway, Jeffrey Osborne, Boney James, Kelly Price, and Dr. John, Duke also appears on the track ‘Bring Me Joy’. Stanley Clarke is also an important part of the album recorded mainly at the Village Studio in LA on a number of tracks (as well as co-producing some tracks) among some stellar names in the various band personnel configurations, including keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, and Patrice Rushen, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr, and percussionist Lenny Castro.
The title track ‘My Old Friend’ featuring saxophonist Gerald Albright Jarreau sang on early-1980s hit record Breakin’ Away a number that Duke appeared on while virtually all the other songs are Duke’s, including his Tutu ‘Backyard Ritual’ tune featuring Marcus Miller with Jarreau penning lyrics to become ‘Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)’, candlelit rhymes chasing the blues away as the lyric has it, vocal against trumpet and formidable bass (later with a fine bass clarinet solo from Miller) that develops eventually into a loose scat rap by the end. Jarreau says in his liner notes in a letter to Duke that on this album he and his friends were there to make “some musical smiles”, and that’s really the album in a nutshell, a very sophisticated soul-pop-jazz hybrid that engages throughout. The gorgeous ‘Sweet Baby’ featuring a duet with Lalah Hathaway and finding Stanley Clarke on bass and backing vocals (the track was on 1981’s Clarke/Duke Project) is one of the easy standouts along with the joyous ‘Every Reason to Smile’ segueing into ‘Wings of Love’, featuring Jeffrey Osborne, the latter from Osborne’s self-titled solo debut, while Clarke is superb backing Dianne Reeves on ‘Brazilian Love Affair.’ SG
Al Jarreau, top. Photo: Marina Chavez / Concord
updated 1 Aug