Chuck Loeb: Between 2 Worlds (2009)
While no one was looking, Chuck Loeb was quietly becoming one of the most interesting guitarists making music today. Loeb kept working as a sideman, composer and arranger, making his own solo albums in a low-key way until he reached the point where any serious conversation about who's among the best in the business that doesn't include Loeb isn't a serious conversation at all.
Between 2 Worlds finds Loeb exploring a more naturalistic, organic mode with the instruments mixed up front and without any keyboard embellishments whatsoever. Recorded both in Berlin and New York City, everything about the music sounds fresh. It takes a few listens to even notice the absence of keyboards, but it gradually becomes clear that they aren't missed at all.
Loeb gives plenty of room for his fellow musicians to shine, and particularly impressive is how he uses horns in a way that makes them more than just supplemental instrumentation. On the opening track, "Let's Go," Loeb's guitar sets the pace, with Eric Marienthal's saxophone and Brian Culbertson's trombone following along, goosing the tempo just so.
No less than four of Between 2 Worlds' eleven tracks are shout-outs to other guitar greats. "Hiram" is a laconic tribute to the late Hiram Bullock, featuring a nicely subdued bass line from Will Lee. "Let's Play" is a invitation to Mike Stern and drummer Dave Weckl to show off some impressive technique. "The Great Hall" gives Jim Hall his just due, and "360" tips its hat to Pat Metheny.
How refreshing it is to hear a musician who subverts his ego. If nothing else, Loeb is a master of tasteful restraint. Instead of being showy, Loeb has learned to let the music do the talking.
The only song that sounds like it doesn't quite belong here is "Oh No You Didn't" featuring vocals by Loeb's daughter, Lizzy. But its disarmingly amusing lyrics and Lizzy's bemused singing makes it a charmingif slightly out of placeoffering.
Critics carp that most of the music in the contemporary/smooth jazz genre is safe, bloodless and generic; and too often the artists accommodate the stereotype by playing it safe by churning out bloodless and generic product. Still, there are bold innovators in every genre of music, and Chuck Loeb most definitely qualifies.
Any jazz aficionado who thinks there is no imagination or originality to be found in contemporary music should pay attention to the sublime grace of the last four tracks on Between 2 Worlds. Even the most jaded purist will find something to like there.
Chuck Loeb has crafted the most accomplished recording in his long career with Between 2 Worlds. This transcendent album is easily one of the unparalleled and superior albums of 2009 that provides new rewards with every repeated play.
Track Listing: Let's Go; Hiram; Mittens; Between 2 Worlds; Oh No You Didn't; Let's Play; So Tinha De Que Ser Com Voce; The Great Hall; Mean Old Man; 360; Early Turns To Late.
Personnel: Chuck Loeb: guitar; Carmen Cuesta: vocals (2, 4, 7); Lizzy Loeb: vocals (5); Eric Marienthal: saxophones, flutes; Till Bronner: trumpet (3); Nathan Eklund: trumpet, trombone (1); Brian Culbertson: trombone (1); Pat Bergeson: harmonica (11); Will Lee: bass (1, 3, 5), fretless melody (2); Gerald Veasley: bass (2, 6); Dieter Ilg: bass (8-11), Dave Weckl: drums (1-3, 5-7); Wolfgang Haffner: drums (4, 8-11); Bashiri Johnson: percussion (1-3); David Charles: percussion (5, 7, 10, 11).