Jazz CD Reviews

Jeff Lorber Fusion – Hacienda – Heads Up International

Fusion pioneer still grooves!

Published on September 20, 2013

Jeff Lorber Fusion – Hacienda – Heads Up International HUI 34476-02, 56:05 [8/27/13] (Distr. by Concord) ****:

(Jeff Lorber – piano, keyboards, bass, guitar; Paul Jackson Jr. – guitar; Jimmy Haslip – bass, keyboards; Vinnie Colaiuta – drums; Lenny Castro – percussion; Eric Marienthal – alto/soprano/tenor saxophones; David Mann – horn arrangements, section saxophones, brass, flutes; Larry Koonse – guitar; Jean-Luc Ponty – violin; Michael Thompson – guitar; Ed Mann – marimba; Gary Novak – drums; Dave Weckl – drums)

Growing up in the soul-drenched “City Of Brotherly Love”, eventual ascension to fusion jazz seemed inevitable for Jeff Lorber. Having started as a pianist at the age of four, he played in several r&b bands as a teenager. Like many before him, Lorber attended Berklee School Of Music and became enamored of jazz. But unlike his predecessors, he moved to the Northwest, settling in Vancouver and then Portland. The Jeff Lorber Fusion’s self-titled debut on Inner City Records was released in 1977. He was influenced by other fusion artists like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea/Return To Forever (who appeared on some early albums) and Weather Report. At the core of this music was Lorber’s use of piano, Rhodes and analog synthesizers, including the Minimoog and the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5.

During the ‘80s, Lorber embarked on a solo career as a contemporary jazz artist. Expanding his sound to include vocalists, he recorded with previous fusion band mate Kenny G and Paulinho Da Costa. For the next 15 years he maintained a presence in the smooth jazz arena. Lorber garnered a Grammy nomination for Flipside (2005). In 2010 he reincarnated the Jeff Lorber Fusion with Now Is The Time (on Heads Up Records) and followed it up with Galaxy (2012). He did session work for Herb Alpert, Dave Koz, Eric Benet and produced Patrick Lamb. Beyond performing as a bandleader or session player, Lorber hosts a show on Sirius Radio.

Hacienda is the latest release by Lorber. The opening track (“Corinaldo”) gets off to a rousing start. Behind a driving rhythm section (Jimmy Halslip/bass, Vinnie Colauita/drums and Lenny Castro/percussion) the ensemble launches into a funky but complex up tempo pattern. Eric Marienthal offers a fluid solo on tenor and Lorber contributes complex synthesizer and electric piano shadings. “Solar Wind” sustains the energetic mood that showcases fluid guitar runs by Larry Koonse. Lorber’s electric piano solo is very dynamic. A refreshing cover (the only one on the album) of Frank Zappa’s “King Kong” enlists fusion veteran Jean-Luc Ponty ( a former Zappa band member) on violin. The band captures Zappa’s quirky approach to key changes and tempos.

On many levels this is an accessible jazz project. “The Steppe” is harmonically textured, and Marienthal shines on alto, while Forber shows an elegant touch on piano. Drawing on r & b mode, the title cut is jaunty and hook driven. Lorber executes keyboard runs with aesthetic finesse. “Raptor” has a jazzy combo swagger. David Mann weaves a cohesive horn arrangement and supplements it with some tasteful flute accents. A rare ballad, “Playa Del Falco” changes the overall vibe with a laid back merger of Rhodes and soprano saxophone. Lorber and his band mates revel in the sprightly agility of fusion on the Haslip original “Dragonfly” that closes the CD.

Hacienda sounds great. The music is lush, but not overproduced. Jeff Lorber Fusion was a tight, inventive band in the 70. They still are! 

TrackList: Corinaldo; Solar Wind; King Kong; The Steppe; Hacienda; Fab Gear; Raptor; Everlast; Playa Del Falco; Escapade; Dragonfly

—Robbie Gerson

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