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An "oh so good" new direction

Jeff Lorber Fusion - Now is the Time
(Heads Up)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 2, 2010
Jeff Lorber Fusion

Review by Brad Walseth

Back in my hometown in the Pacific Northwest (Missoula, Montana), my friends and I would get whipped up into a frenzy anytime a band from Portland made their appearance at a local dive called the Top Hat Lounge. That band was the Jeff Lorber Fusion and their energetic blend of funk and progressive jazz used to drive us wild. In the middle of the high-living, circus atmosphere of that crazy college town, the young band leader and keyboardist always had a serious look in his eyes that spoke of deep dedication and drive - something that took Jeff Lorber to the very top of the music business. This success primarily occurred after five albums between 1977 and 1981 with "the Fusion," when he began mixing more R&B into his songs, smoothing out the sound and helping pioneer the smooth jazz sound.

Lorber has recorded at least five albums a decade of his own material, while working with and producing a Who's-Who list of vocalists and musicians from the Smooth Jazz world: Michael Franks, Dave Koz, Kenny G, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Wayman Tisdale, David Benoit, Gerald Albright and many more. Now to the delight of fans of his early work, as well as his later output, Lorber has reformed the Jeff Lorber Fusion with perhaps its best lineup yet, and is revisiting the songs and sounds from his fusion years, while utilizing the knowledge and production techniques he has learned over the years, producing his best album yet in "Now is the Time" - and one is suspect may just win Lorber a well-deserved Grammy. By combining the delicious production values with more advanced changes and harmonies that are usually found in the genre, Lorber may reinvent music for a second time.

A perfect example is the opening number - "Rain Dance" - from 1979's "Water Sign" - which has been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists, including Lil Kim. Lorber's keyboards are first rate, Irene B provides lovely vocals, while Randy Brecker's flugelhorn is brilliant. And the band on this radio-friendly tune, I should mention, includes Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., and the Blood Sweat and Tears Horns. This lineup (minus the BST horns) is pretty consistent throughout , but is changed up for the satisfying funk of "Dr. Moy" which follows and features Lorber on organ, Rufus guitarist Tony Maiden and saxophone star Eric Marienthal (who appears on the entire rest of the album). "Pixel" is an uptempo urban groover that will get your feet moving, while "Sugar Free" is another "hit" with Irene B back on vocals. Things really move toward fusion with the inclusion of a funked up version of Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveler," while old favorite "Curtains" is given a beautiful ballad treatment. Of course, no visit to the Fusion's heyday would be complete without the inclusion of the terrific "Black Ice" - one of my all-time favorites, and this version - complete with excellent Haslip bass solo - is outstanding.

The wonderful "Las Rosas" is as light and airy and welcome as a cool breeze, while "Chinese Medicinal Herbs" is an uptempo gem from Lorber's debut that showcases his exemplary acoustic piano work, along with some fine guitar playing by Larry Koonse, and explosive drumming by Dave Weckl on this 7/4 burner. "Water Sign" is "oh-so-funky" and features Irene B on what should be another hit. The album ends on strong fashion with the high-stepping "Sumatra." A very well done album - great to hear this direction from Lorber.

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