Few musicians have defined the sound of contemporary jazz over 30 years like keyboard wizard Jeff Lorber. His sound and his production touch are heard on many of the best recordings out there.

As such, a new release from Jeff, under his own name or as part of the collective Jeff Lorber Fusion, is something for guys like me to get excited about. And I was very excited to hear that the latest incarnation of the JLF, as I’m calling it in my notes, includes bass maestro Jimmy Haslip and one of my all-time favourite saxmen Eric Marienthal. The fact that drum duties are shared between fusion powerhouses Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl only served to increase my sense of anticipation.

Come on, let’s listen to some damn fine funky music. The 7-minute ‘Live Wire’ kicks us off with a driving drum beat and some nimble bass to accompany it. To me this is a club track and if I get the DJ gig I’m currently chasing, this will get some heavy rotation. The flute, keyboard and guitar solos are all sweet and keep this pounding number uplifting. Good God, I haven’t heard jazz this danceable for a long time! I also love the slower strut of ‘Big Brother’ with the sax out front and some more conventional piano sounds. It’s got that Lorber ‘loose tightness’ (I just made that up) and I love it.

‘Montserrat’ is more intricate but still crisp and funky with some Brecker-style stabbing horns. This really is funk first and jazz second. It’s impossible to sit – or stand – still. My my my! There’s time to catch your breath – well, just about – on the more relaxed ‘Singaraja’ which features lovely work by Larry Koonse on guitar. Marienthal on soprano sounds as good as I’ve ever heard him – he’s really one of the most talented horn-men of the last 20 years. Ahh, just get lost in this stuff…

The title track, another writing collaboration with Jimmy Haslip powers in aggressively but soon opens out and mellows out, allowing more of that soprano sax and some cool chord changes – super cool. The funk runs strong throughout with Weckl seriously in the pocket and Paul Jackson Jr on rhythm guitar being, well, Paul Jackson Jr. Check the credits on your best albums – he’s there! If you’ve heard 1982’s ‘Wizard Island’ you’ll recognise the groovy ‘City’, reworked here to have a slightly looser feel and some gorgeous acoustic piano work. Colaiuta keeps that snare cracking and this song must absolutely burn live!

A tribute to pianist Horace Silver, ‘Horace’ is a funky, mid-paced tune with some nice breakdowns where keyboard, sax and bass ‘double’ each other so well it hurts. It swings like crazy – which by now you won’t be surprised to hear! Half a lifetime ago, a friend’s brother-in-law used to play some sublime jazz-funk round at his house and ‘The Samba’ was one of the standout tracks, though back then I didn’t know the title or the artist. Well, I do now and I love this sexier, updated version with its acoustic guitar solo courtesy of Larry Koonse. His is a new name for me, but I’ll listen for more of his work and I’d advise you to do the same. There’s even a little breakdown in the keyboard solo which owes a little to Chic’s ridiculously groovy ‘Chic Cheer’. Cheeky. Inspired. Love this.

The Lorber/Haslip writing team has delivered some gems here, including the funky ‘Rapids’. The lead sax and horn section work are dazzling – as is Haslip’s bass solo – note-perfect and a scary reminder to humble bassists like me how good bass solos can get. The second song to be reworked from the ‘Wizard Island’ album is the title track. The phrasing subtly shifts from the original, the overall sound is a touch less angular and Haslip’s solo is the icing on the cake. Mind you, the cake ain’t bad!! ‘The Underground’ is an intricate number, which still retains a crisp groove and it features trumpeter Randy Brecker in an all-too-brief appearance. The keyboards and trumpet work well together and the bass solo which heralds the last 30 seconds of the song leaves you wanting more.

Well, if you were a kid of about 9 or 10 years old, you’d have a pretty good idea of what would make you whoop with joy on Christmas morning when you unwrap your presents. As a jazz and funk fan who’s, ahem, a little bit older, I know what would make me whoop for joy when I take the shrink-wrap off a new Jeff Lorber CD. This album has all of that – and more.


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Heads Up International HUI 33173 Producers – Jeff Lorber and Jimmy Haslip