Because the songs for the most part don’t include lyrics, titling instrumental jazz tracks can be a bit of a crapshoot sometimes—but Chuck Loeb’s choice of “Between 2 Worlds” for the centerpiece tune and album title of his second Heads Up CD makes perfect sense. Because the album jaunts effortlessly between radio ready funky pop/soul to Brazilian jazz and edgier fusion, and the veteran composer/guitarist—who worked earlier in his career as a sideman for legendary saxman Stan Getz--has literally performed his music all over the world, the idea of two worlds at first seems kind of limiting. That is, until you realize that Loeb is talking pure geography—the first seven tracks were cut in New York (Avatar Studios) and the remaining four at Bam Bam Studios in Berlin.
Loeb’s versatility means that his collections jump around in a happy state of schizophrenic pleasure throughout, and, true to its title in this sense as well, Between 2 Worlds follows the joyful pattern. Production wise, no matter what side of the Pond he’s on, he strips things down this time, allowing him to be the driving force harmonically, texturally and melodically by dispensing with much of the technology of his previous recordings and focusing on the basic trio of guitar, bass (Will Lee, Gerald Veasley, Dieter Ilg) and drums (Dave Weckl, Wolfgang Haffner).
Urban jazz fans shouldn’t despair that it’s too stripped down, however—there’s room enough for saxman Eric Marienthal on various cuts (including the expansive, slow burning fusion tune “Mittens”) and Brian Culbertson’s high spirited trombone licks on the grooving and brass, in the pocket opener “Let’s Go.” And as always, Loeb makes it a family affair, with his wife Carmen Cuesta adding her dreamy wordless vocals to the easy swaying ballad “Hiram” and the balmy late night Latin sensuality of the title track. Carmen shows more of her formidable talent for musical seduction with her Portuguese lead vocal on a graceful cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Só Tinha De Que Ser Com Vocé.” While Loeb gets romantic with his wife, their 22-year-old daughter Lizzy Loeb keeps him youthful with her sassy lyrics and cool, Mindi Abair-like vocals on their funky pop collaboration “Oh No You Didn’t.”
Once he’s in Berlin, the vibe changes completely and Loeb takes his guitar to newly introspective artistic heights—while lowering the energy level significantly—on laid back tracks like the hypnotic “The Great Hall,” the easy shuffling electric guitar contemplation “Mean Old Man,” the dark and haunting “ 360” and the lovely and romantic closer “Early Turns To Late,” which was co-penned by Chuck and Lizzy and features a sweetly rendered harmonica solo by Pat Bergeson. The many worlds of Chuck Loeb are always worth exploring, and it’s great that Heads Up allows him to continue to mix ultra commercial tracks with deeper artistic expressions. Finding yourself Between 2 Worlds, you’ll want Loeb to be your tour guide.