Jeff Lorber – Master of Fusion Jazz

Over three decades after breaking ground as leader of the pioneering Jeff Lorber Fusion, the Philly-born and bred composer, producer and keyboard legend is still keeping the vibes fresh and the grooves funky, inspiring contemporary jazz fans everywhere to exclaim with each new musical excursion: Heard That. On his highly anticipated Peak Records debut, Lorber keeps the soulful momentum going, collaborating brilliantly on pop, jazz, R&B and blues-influenced tracks–and even harkening back a bit to his early 80s Fusion heyday–with one of urban jazz’s top hit makers and sonic architects, Rex Rideout.

Highlighted by a swinging, bluesy-brass twist on Amy Winehouse’s Grammy winning “Rehab,” (the first single,) Heard That features a typically vibrant Lorber all-star guest list, including trumpet great Rick Braun, guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., bassist Alex Al, and Peak labelmate, saxman Gerald Albright. Lorber has been touring all throughout 2008 as part of Guitars & Saxes with Albright, Jessy J, Jeff Golub and Peter White.

As high charting, pop-jazz oriented releases like West Side Stories (1994), State of Grace (1996) and Midnight (1998) were establishing him as one of the genre’s top artists, Lorber also became an in demand producer; every artist looking for a hit melody and groove, from Albright to Eric Marienthal, Richard Elliot and David Benoit, tapped his behind the board talents. But on his later projects, Lorber sought new inspiration himself by collaborating with other producers. On his first three Narada Jazz sessions, including Kickin’ It (2001), Philly Style (2003) and 2005’s Grammy nominated Flipside, the keyboardist partnered with producer Steven Dubin. Leaning more jazzy on his eclectic 2007 date He Had A Hat, he worked with legendary Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer and Chris Botti producer Bobby Colomby.

Eager to return to his trademark R&B sound when he signed with Peak, Lorber immediately sought out Rideout, who has lent his Midas touch over the past ten years to a virtual who’s who of contemporary jazz and soul instrumentalists and vocalists: Albright, Elliot, Boney James, Paul Taylor, Kirk Whalum, Maysa, Will Downing, Lalah Hathaway and Ledisi.

“I have been a fan of all of the records he’d been doing in the urban jazz realm for years,” the keyboardist says. “My last album He Had A Hat was more of a serious jazz exploration, and I wanted to record a more funky, R+B approach that would be modern, yet also have some of the funky sound and jazzy chord changes like the music from 1979’s ‘Water Sign’ which is one of my favorite albums. Songs on Heard That like ‘The Bomb’, ‘Night Sky’ and ‘Gamma Rays’ have these influences. There’s also a strong blues influence, especially on ‘Don’t Stop and the title track.”

That exciting blues twist is also a prominent element in Lorber’s instantly infectious romp through “Rehab,” which was actually added to the set list of Heard That at the last minute “I was just messing around at the piano,” he says, “and realized it would be a good instrumental song, based on a Wurlitzer piano figure, which I included in my version, of course. The whole thing came down very quickly and spontaneously. Tony Moore, a good friend who just happened to be coming over, played the drum part on Bobby Colomby’s 30 year old Slingerland drum set that he used to play with Blood Sweat and Tears. We got into a groove reminiscent of Ramsey Lewis’ ‘In Crowd’ immediately. Rex suggested a Motown style back beat guitar part which I recorded with plenty of spring reverb, like a record from the 60’s. Gary Meek and Rick Braun laid down their horn parts a few days later and everything just clicked.”

While most of Lorber’s previous recordings exclusively feature him on piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond B-3, Fender Rhodes and synthesizers, the playful spirit of the sessions for Heard That allowed for him to share the keys with Rideout, most notably on the old school soul-jazz jam opener “Come On Up” (highlighted by a swirl of Rhodes and piano with the Ron King/Gary Meek horn section and a crackling Paul Jackson, Jr. guitar solo); the cool, slow jam soul ballad “You Got Something” (which they wrote with featured vocalist Phillip “Taj” Jackson); the wild and soaring, brassy funk/fusion explosion not called “The Bomb” for nothing!; and the sensual vocal track “Take Control,” which blends a thick funk ballad rhythm and dark keyboard chordings with co-writer Lauren Evans’ dreamy vocals.

“Rex and I were surrounded by tons of keyboards in my studio,” Lorber says, “and every time we came up with a new idea, whoever was closest to the one that would have the right sound would play it. It was great to have his flavor as a complement to my style.” The rest of the tracks, include the guitar and bass driven “Don’t Hold Back”; the percussive and whimsical, fusion-influenced “Gamma Rays” (with Rick Braun on trumpet and Gary Meek on tenor sax and flute); the sly and sensual, bubbling bass and horn accented “Don’t Stop”; the vibrant up-tempo “Night Sky,” featuring Lorber’s bright piano melody and retro wah-wah guitar ; and the high energy, swinging funk/jazz title track closer which Lorber wrote with rising urban jazz star Eric Darius, with whom Lorber toured Indonesia and Japan in early 2008.

Since the late 80s advent of the New Adult Contemporary format, Jeff Lorber has found himself filling a unique dual role. Having played a significant role in developing the late 70’s, early 80s R&B-jazz hybrid sound that later evolved into today’s smooth jazz, the keyboardist is a true elder statesman of the genre and mentor to many of this generation’s top artists. Philly raised and Berklee educated, Jeff Lorber recorded his first two albums for Inner City records: The Jeff Lorber Fusion (1977) and Soft Space (1978)-both of which have been recently re-issued.

Lorber fondly refers to the wealth of music he created on his six popular Arista albums from 1979-1985 (which led to his first Grammy nomination for Best R&B instrumental for “Pacific Coast Highway” in 1985) as “second generation fusion.” In 2000, Arista Records released The Definitive Collection, which gathered the best material from these classic recordings. After the heyday of Jeff Lorber Fusion-a band which featured a then little known sax player named Kenny G, whose first album Lorber produced-the keyboardist produced R&B artists like Karyn White (including her Top Ten hit “Facts of Love”) and entered his remixing phase. Getting back into the instrumental groove in the 90s, he produced tracks on Dave Koz’s first two albums and many other artists including Art Porter and Michael Franks.

Throughout 2004 and 2005, Lorber anchored the immensely popular tribute tour Groovin’ For Grover, which featured Gerald Albright throughout its run in addition to stints by Richard Elliot, Paul Taylor and Kirk Whalum. In November, 2004, the keyboardist had a kidney transplant surgery (his wife Mink was a perfect match) after experiencing end stage renal failure due to the genetic condition Polycystic Kidney Disease; he is currently a spokesman for the PKD Foundation. True to his hardworking form, Lorber was back in action within a few weeks, performing gigs and getting back to his popular, weekly three hour radio show Lorber’s Place Sunday nights on Sirius’ Satellite Radio’s Jazz Café Channel.

“I’m very grateful to be healthy and having the opportunity to do what I love to do, which is making music,” says Lorber. “I think the key to my success and longevity is my work ethic and the time I spend focusing on writing . Some artists only compose songs when it’s time for the next album, but I’m open to inspiration and ideas 24 hours a day, always thinking about harmony, melodies and chords. The best part of recording Heard That was having the chance to work with and become friends with Rex, who generously brought his talent and perspective to the project. Jazz thrives on being a collaborative medium and working with Rex was for me was a great opportunity to learn and bring in new ideas”

Jeff Lorber published with permission of Bettie Grace Miner.

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