Sunday, September 05, 2010

"Now is the Time" Jeff Lorber Fusion | Heads Up International - Review #jazz

An accepted kernel of jazz historiography states that cats who play what has ultimately become smooth jazz play it because they can't play the real music. But even back in the day--specifically the seventies--I knew this wasn't true across the board ; as evidenced by the undeniable chops of Ramsey Lewis, Grover Washington, Joe Sample, and the Philly-born keyboardist Jeff Lorber. His group The Jeff Lorber Fusion was a mainstay on urban black radio, and his compositions, arrangements and solos, swung in the commercial contexts of the day, so much so that decades later rap artists would resurrect his songs in the hip-hop generation of the nineties.

So we have rappers to thank for this dancing and delightful disc that features dynamic do-overs from Lorber's catalog--specifically from his critically-acclaimed 1977 and 1979 LP's The Jeff Lorber Fusion, Soft Space and Water Sign, along with some new offerings. This new CD, whose title riffs off of the famous Charlie Parker tune, features a new Jeff Lorber Fusion lineup consisting of bassist Jimmy Haslip, trumpeter, Irene B, Randy Brecker, guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., saxophonist Eric Marienthal and drummers Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta.

Hot out the gate is the anthemic “Rain Dance/Wanna Fly,” which was sampled by Lil' Kim on her hit “Crush on You.” Lorber and company lay down a twenty first century mid-tempo groove as good as the original one, with Irene B's lithe, uplifting vocals, Brecker's ebullient flugelhorn tones and Lorber's in-the-pocket acoustic piano solo. The laid back lilt of “Curtains/Before We Go,” which provided the foundation for rapper Nelly's naughty “Pimp Juice” remix, is reborn with its original ballad beauty, with a lush orchestral/synth introduction and another Irene B, vocal treatment graced by Marienthal's piercing sax solo. The complex tempoed, samba-fied “Chinese Medicinal Herbs,” is a showcase for Weckl's technically brilliant and crisp drumming.

Two other selections feature the Blood Sweat & Tears horns on the funky numbers “Dr. Moy,” and “Pixel.” Lorber's take on the Wayne Shorter--penned Weather Report classic “Mysterious Traveller,” manages to stay true to its exotic and evocative aural aura, while interjecting some intelligent urban rhythmic motifs to the mix. Lorber's pianism--acoustic and electric--are short and sweet, but to the point; along with Haslip's ingenious basslines, Weckl's lickety--split rhythms. All told, Lorber and his fusioneers serve up a pleasing disc that confirms that old saying that (musically speaking) some things are better the second time around.

Track Listing: Rain Dance/Wanna Fly; Dr. Moy; Pixel; Sugar Free; Mysterious Traveller; Curtains/Before We Go; Black Ice; Las Rosas; Chinese Medicinal Herbs; Sumatra.

Personnel: Jeff Lorber: keyboards; Irene B: vocals (1, 4, 6, 10); Paul Jackson Jr.: guitar (1, 3, 4, 7, 10); Randy Brecker: flugelhorn (1); Jimmy Haslip: bass (1, 3-11); Vinnie Colaiuta: drums (1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10); Jimmy Branly: percussion (1, 5, 7, 9) drums (6, 11); Eric Marienthal: saxophones (2, 3, 5-11); Michael Thompson: guitar (5, 6, 8, 11); Tony Maiden: guitar (2); Alex Al: bass (2); Li'l John Roberts: drums (2); Lenny Castro: percussion (2); Larry Koonse: guitar (9); Tom Timko: flute (1, 3, 9, 11); Steve Jankowski: flugelhorn (9), trumpet (1, 3, 11); Dave Weckl: drums (9); Jens Wendelboe: trombone (1, 3, 11); Teddy Mulet: lead trumpet ( 1, 3, 11).

By Eugene Holley, Jr. -

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