Jeff Lorber’s name is synonymous with jazz fusion and first-rate recordings, so it’s no surprise that this latest entry in a line of collaborations with bassist Jimmy Haslip crosses the finish line of success from its first notes with ace compositions and playing that is commensurate with the reputation of both of the main players and the many who join them here. Also no surprise? Lorber and Haslip continue their R&B obsession, working it into virtually every nook and quarter beat, but that’s no problem at all.
The movement-oriented rhythms and melodies of pieces such as “Up On This”, “Fire Spirit” (an early nomination for best track on the album) and “Deep Green” are hard to beat but the interplay heard on those tracks and others, including “Soul Party” and “Mustang”. Of course, no jazz outing is complete without a series of players who can bring the music to life and these two have a contacts list that has allowed them to assemble some, shall we say, serious help: Robben Ford and Bob Mintzer, pals from Haslip’s time with the Yellowjackets appear, as do drummers Ash Soan, Gary Novak and Vinnie Colaiuta; saxophonist Gary Meek and guitarists Michael Thompson and Paul Jackson Jr. also join in and the omnipresent Lenny Castro pops in.
For newcomers thrown off by the word fusion in the collective’s moniker, those expecting something closer to Mahavishnu Orchestra than Steely Dan, let the record(s) show that the fusion in question here is jazz, funk, R&B, and soul, and not just the standard jazz and rock blend that most of us have come to expect when hearing the F-word. But this isn’t total revivalist stuff either; this is music crated in the now, stuff that is as prescient now as it was back in ’82 when Lorber initially left behind the Fusion tag.
If neither the band nor its records, including the savory Wizard Island, never received the kind of acclaim they deserved in that initial run, the more recent outings have yielded a greater amount of respect. Whatever the reasons—that the audience has caught up, that Lorber is writing better than before, or that critics are just happy to have such seasoned players and writers around—there can be no mistake that the praise is both deserved and real.
The last Fusion album, 2013’s Hacienda was another career highlight and the arrival of this record so close can only be a sign that Lorber and friends are a kind of high that we can only hope they’ll be riding high for some time to come. It’s great to hear albums such as this that are smart, intimate and filled with players keen to work their way through a range of styles that are blended seamlessly such that we don’t know what it is and know only that we like it.
Here’s to many more collaborations between Lorber, Haslip and their merry band of jazz makers, who keep us well supplied in effortless-sounding records such as this one and the many that have come before. Step It Up is not to be missed.
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