JEFF LORBER with Gerald Veasley and Lionel Cordew
Thu Jun 15 2023 at 07:00 pm to 08:15 pm
South Jazz Club / Unscripted Jazz Series | Philadelphia, PA
About this Event
Grammy Award-winning keyboardist-composer-producer Jeff Lorber has, over the course of 42 years and 24 albums, pioneered the post-fusion sound of contemporary jazz with his radiofriendly, groove-oriented instrumental music. From 1977’s Jeff Lorber Fusion to 2017’s Prototype, named Best Contemporary Instrumental Music album at the 60th annual Grammy Awards, to his recent collaboration with guitar great Mike Stern on Eleven, Lorber has shown a knack for creating fresh vibes and funky grooves while layering on jazzy improvisations on piano, synthesizer and his signature Fender Rhodes electric piano.
An acknowledged pioneer of what would later become known as “smooth jazz” and “urban jazz,” Lorber has woven together elements of funk, R&B, rock and electric jazz into an appealing hybrid that has consistently won over listeners from coast to coast and resulted in several #1 radio hits. A member of the all-star group Jazz Funk Soul, featuring saxophonist Everette Harp and guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., Lorber has also headlined The Smooth Jazz Cruise, dubbed “The Greatest Party at Sea.”
As for the tag ‘smooth jazz,’ Lorber believes it is more a marketing term than a musical category. “While I’m grateful to the format for providing a platform for modern instrumental music, I was doing my music way before there was the term ‘smooth jazz,’” he said. “I guess the Venn diagram of my music intersects with some of those characteristics of smooth jazz, but my music has always been melodic, it’s always been funky and I definitely try to keep an attention to soloing. It represents something more ambitious and more jazzy and more compelling, I hope.”
Growing up in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Cheltenham, where he attended the same high school as Randy and Michael Brecker, pianist Marc Copland, saxophonist Andy Snitzer and baseball player Reggie Jackson, Lorber began playing the piano at the age of four and as a teen performed with a variety of local R&B bands. While attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Lorber developed an enduring love of jazz. “I was very lucky that I ended up at Berklee, and what I learned about harmony, improvisation and arranging there is the backbone for how I approach music,” he explained in a Berklee alumni profile. “Besides the music education, I found that hanging out with all the talented musicians and finding out what they were listening to was just as valuable. I was lucky to meet and play with John Scofield, who was already an incredible guitar player, and keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who went on to great success with the Cars.”
During his time at Berklee, Lorber also studied with the renowned piano teacher Madame Margaret Chaloff, whose other students included Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Hal Galper and Kenny Werner. “Along with studying the history of jazz piano, and jazz music in general, I was very influenced by both Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea,” he added. “I was also a big fan of Horace Silver, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly and Red Garland, and I really admired what Weather Report was doing.”
After graduating from Berklee in 1971, Lorber moved to Portland, Oregon, where he combined his love of jazz and funky R&B (Tower of Power, The Crusaders, Earth, Wind & Fire) into a potent band he named Jeff Lorber Fusion. The group’s combination of complex harmonies and infectious grooves quickly established them as a popular attraction in the Pacific Northwest, and by 1975 they began touring nationally. With the release of its 1977 self-titled debut, Jeff Lorber Fusion was well on its way. Their 1978 followup album, Soft Space, featured special guests Chick Corea and Joe Farrell while their 1980 release, Wizard Island, included a well-regarded local tenor sax player named Kenny Gorelick, who would later emerge as a solo artist in his own right known as Kenny G.
Lorber struck New Adult Contemporary gold with 1986’s Private Passion, which prominently featured R&B vocalists along with renowned jazz soloists in trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and guitarist Larry Carlton. For the remainder of the ‘80s, Lorber took a break as bandleader and solo artist to concentrate on session work and producing other artists. “I switched gears and became an in-demand session player for R&B and pop music,” he recalled. “Those were the days of drum machines and sequencers, and I learned how to put tracks together with a Linn 9000 (later MPC60) mini moog bass, DX7 and Emulator II keyboards. I was very lucky to work on a number of successful projects for DeBarge, U2, Paula Abdul and a number of artists produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Charlie Wilson, and the Isley Brothers.”
After a seven-year layoff, Lorber returned with 1993’s Worth Waiting For, a tongue-in-cheek titled album for an all-star project featuring special guests Art Porter, Gary Meek, Dave Koz, Lee Ritenour, Janis Siegel and Bruce Hornsby. “This was a real explosion of bottled up musical ideas,” he said. “That record helped re-ignite my career as an artist.”
He recorded for Verve and Zebra through the ’90s before moving to the Narada label and subsequently releasing 2001’s Kickin’ It, 2003’s Philly Style and 2005’s Flipside. His 2007 Blue Note release, He Had a Hat, found the pianist shifting from funky pop-jazz numbers to more straight ahead swingers like “Be Bops” and “All Most Blues” and the hard-hitting fusion number “Surreptitious,” featuring trumpeter Randy Brecker. Lorber returned to ‘70s flavored funk and soul on 2010’s Now Is the Time and with 2011’s Galaxian he began a working relationship with bass-producer Jimmy Haslip, a charter member of the Yellowjackets. Together they had a string of successes with 2013’s Hacienda, 2015’s Step It Up, 2017’s Grammy-winning Prototype and 2018’s Impact. They remain a solid co-producing team on 2019’s Eleven, Lorber’s recent collaboration with Mike Stern. “I thought that having Jeff working together with Mike on a project would create something new and different,” said Haslip, who had previously worked with Stern on the Yellowjackets’ 2008 album, Lifecycle. “That was a compelling idea to me.”
“I was very enthusiastic about this project with Mike because I knew it would be something different and challenging,” added Lorber. “And I liked the idea that it would take me away from what some people call ‘smooth jazz,’ which is a monicker that I don’t really love. Because Mike is not that at all. He’s a lot jazzier in terms of his phrasing. He’s just a bebop wizard, he’s got an incredible jazz feeling. And by the same token, he’s got the rock and blues thing covered too. He’s on both sides of the musical spectrum. So when I heard he was up for it, I was delighted to have a chance to work with him in the studio on this project. And I think we really hit it off musically as well as personally.”
Roughly the same age — Lorber was born November 4, 1952 in Philadelphia, Stern was born January 10, 1953 in Boston — these two musical forces grew up admiring a lot of the same music, from Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis to Weather Report and Joe Henderson. “And we have something else in common,” added Lorber. “One of Mike’s early gigs was with Blood, Sweat & Tears. And Bobby Colomby, the drummer-producer and founding member of Blood, Sweat & Tears, is actually a really good buddy of mine. We’ve known each other for years. He produced one of my albums (2007’s He Had a Hat). So we have that in common too.”
You can hear that common ground on Eleven, as both Lorber and Stern throw down with a vengeance. From the melodic and catchy opener, “Righteous,” powered by Gary Novak’s crisp backbeat, Lorber’s signature Fender Rhodes playing and Dave Mann’s tight, East Coast/Brecker Brothers-ish horn arrangement, to Stern’s lyrical, African flavored “Nu Som” and his tender ballad “Tell Me,” to nasty, blues-drenched jams like “Jones Street” and “Slow Change,” this summit meeting percolates with insistent grooves and pulsates with energy and ideas.
Stern’s runaway romp “Ha Ha Hotel,” fueled by drummer Dave Weckl’s muscular backbeat and punctuated by Mann’s crisp horn pads, has the guitarist unleashing his fabled ‘chops of doom’ before Lorber erupts on a killing organ solo. Lorber’s ultra-funky “Motor City” and “Big Town” add a swagger to the proceedings. The driving Lorber-Haslip number “Rhumba Pagan,” fueled by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, features a choir of wordless vocals from Stern, Haslip and Chelsea Maull while Lorber’s intricate 6/8 closer “Runner,” has the keyboardist soloing tastefully on piano and the guitarist cranking his axe to Eleven.
“This project was a joy to work on for many reasons but I most enjoyed the collaborative effort in this work with Jeff and Mike,” said Haslip. “For me, as a co-producer, it was the kind of creative and experimental experience I look forward to. We did try to shake it up, and I think we really succeeded.”
Where is it happening?South Jazz Club / Unscripted Jazz Series, 600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, United States
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