Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
AL JARREAU | Look to the Rainbow
Warner Bros. (1977)
Selected by Brandon Ousley
The late great vocal extraordinaire Al Jarreau cleverly opens this exceptional 1977 live double album by scat singing a greeting to his esteemed Berlin, Germany audience—“Ber-lin, Ber-lin, Ber-lin.” It is during this unique moment that you realize you’re on the brink of something magical, as he showcases his peerless charm for improvisation, syncopation, and spontaneity in his artful vocal delivery.
Culled from various performances during his illustrious 1977 European tour, which brought him tremendous acclaim in his early career, Look to the Rainbow may be the purest example of why Jarreau rose as the greatest male jazz vocalist of his era on stage and on record. It also finely captures how fluent and unconfined his vocal dynamism was in a live setting, as most of his studio output often presented his vocal talents in measured contexts.
Soulfully gratifying and undeniably life-affirming, Jarreau gracefully shifts emotional terrain from romantic sentimentalities reached in his self-penned 1975 song, “Letter Perfect” and a cover of Leon Russell’s “Rainbow in Your Eyes” to wise humankind lessons revealed in “One Good Turn.” He then takes you on an invigorating spiritual trip down the tales of faith, courage, and strength with “Could You Believe” and “Burst in With the Dawn.” By the time he gorgeously performs jaw-dropping renditions of “Better Than Anything,” Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” and the enchanting Broadway staple, “Look to the Rainbow,” your life is forever transformed by not only his thrilling vocal agility, but his knack of infusing immense intimacy in whatever he enunciates and interprets.
In the galaxy of transcendent performances captured in every minute of this live set, Jarreau manages to touch every nuance of your heart at the very end with his unparalleled 8-minute take of “We Got By,” a dramatic song that tells of both the relentless pain of poverty and strength of human perseverance between two lovers in the face of hardship.