Over three decades after breaking funky R&B/jazz ground as leader of the pioneering Jeff Lorber Fusion, the Philly-born and bred composer, producer and keyboard legend still believes in the element of surprise. Riffing quite literally on the title of his 2005 Grammy nominated recording Flipside, Lorber over the past few years has moved past his many years of success in the smooth jazz genre to rediscover the progressive vibe of his original band. The 21st Century version of the JLF is driven by the chemistry created when some of the most powerful artists and musicians in contemporary jazz join forces. They include Jimmy Haslip, Eric Marienthal, Randy Brecker, Lenny Castro, guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Larry Koonse and drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl.
Following up on JLF’s Grammy-nominated 2010 release, Now Is The Time, Lorber on his latest collection Galaxy (a title that riffs on that of JLF’s 1981 LP Galaxian) again draws from his early catalog but gives a fresh approach to some of his most highly requested compositions, including “Wizard Island,” “City,” “The Samba” and “The Underground”; the latter originally appeared on Worth Waiting For, Lorber’s first solo album of the 90s “Essentially this album is a part two,” the multi-talented keyboardist says. “It features the same rhythm section, but it’s even more into the jazz fusion direction. It’s more energetic and the performances are tighter.” The result is the first great contemporary jazz recording released in 2012.
The new band creates fiery free for all jam sessions that are, no doubt by design, far too ambitious for most smooth jazz playlists. Galaxy offers a cool mix of those re-imagined classics and a batch of dazzling originals, five of which were co-written with Haslip, who also co-produced the album. Two of the funked up remakes, “City” and “Wizard Island” (from 1980’s Wizard Island) find Marienthal riffing off of Lorber’s arsenal of keyboards; his powerful work is a great reminder that once upon a time, these parts were played by a pre-stardom Kenny G (billed as Gorelick on the original tracks). Highlights among the new tracks include Lorber’s lighthearted, grooving homage to “Horace” Silver, the expansive, high energy seven minute opening jam “Live Wire” (a great showcase for Colaiuta) and the just exotic enough “Singaraja,” which features Brecker’s floating, far off horn and Jackson’s infectious guitar. Discerning rock fans will notice how “Montserrat” has a groove loosely based on The Police’s 1980 song “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.”
That song title captures the spirit of the way Lorber has shifted gears from the confines of the smooth jazz format that he was an innovative force in for many years. Lorber makes no bones about his feeling that Galaxy—while tackling a direction a few light years away from that stuff—takes fusion to another level. Happily, it’s more than just a sweet exercise in nostalgia. It’s a showcase for all these masterful musician at their most innovative and creative best.