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Jazz Reviews : Jarreau Finds the Magic at Pacific Amphitheatre

There was a magical moment, about two-thirds of the way through Al Jarreau’s concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Saturday night, when the audience finally surrendered to his unique brand of musical wizardry. The flash point came during “Does Anyone Want to Go Dancing,” when an otherwise enthusiastic, but relatively staid audience, leaped to its feet and began to boogie in time with the hypnotic rhythms of Jarreau’s music.

The mood of the evening had been established early on with the singer’s insistence that no “fun-busters” were allowed to participate. Working with his eight-piece band as virtually equal partners, Jarreau seemed determined to sustain the proceedings at a virtual fever pitch. The occasional piece that began as a ballad was almost always quickly transformed into body-shaking funk rhythms.

Despite the apparent lack of musical variety, Jarreau was never boring and never predictable. His between-songs raps worked the audience with the skill and humor of a professional stand-up comedian.

Almost constantly in motion, he produced a startling array of vocalized drum sounds in combination with his two percussionists; he sang convincing bass lines and somehow mined the sound of a feedback electric guitar; he danced and strutted like a peacock, then sat on the apron of the stage and transformed the vast arena into the intimacy of his living room.

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Jarreau’s songs ranged from his current album (“Bottom Line” and “It Feels So Good”) to such personal classics as “Take Five” and “We’re in This Love Together.” But the material was secondary to the performer. Jarreau has become such a masterful stage presence that it almost doesn’t matter what he’s singing.

To his credit, he allotted plenty of space in the spotlight to his musicians, with virtually every song overflowing with horn breaks, guitar fills and drum solos. Saxophonist Michael Powell made the most of his many solo spots, and bassist Ricky Minor was a particularly strong presence, both in his ensemble work and in a lovely duet with Jarreau on “Take Five.”

By the time he was finished, Jarreau had made good on his threat. There had been no “fun-busting” in an evening of extraordinary entertainment from a performer at the very peak of his powers.


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