An accepted kernel of jazz historiography states that cats who play what has ultimately become smooth jazz play it because they can't play the real music. But even back in the dayspecifically the seventiesthis wasn't true across the board, as evidenced by the undeniable chops of Ramsey Lewis, Grover Washington, Jr., Joe Sample, and Philly-born keyboardist Jeff Lorber. His group, The Jeff Lorber Fusion, was a mainstay on urban black radio, and his compositions, arrangements and solos swung in the commercial contexts of the day, so much so that decades later rap artists would resurrect his songs in the hip-hop generation of the nineties.
So we have rappers to thank for this dancing and delightful disc that features dynamic do-overs from Lorber's catalogspecifically from his critically-acclaimed The Jeff Lorber Fusion (Inner City, 1977), Soft Space (Inner City, 1978) and Water Sign (Arista, 1979), along with some new offerings. Now is the Time, whose title riffs off of the famous Charlie Parker tune, features a new Jeff Lorber Fusion lineup, with members including bassist Jimmy Haslip, vocalist Irene B, trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Eric Marienthal.
Hot out the gate is the anthemic "Rain Dance/Wanna Fly," which was sampled by Lil' Kim on her hit, "Crush on You." Lorber and company lay down a 21st Century mid-tempo groove as good as the original, with Irene B's lithe, uplifting vocals, Brecker's ebullient flugelhorn tones and Lorber's in-the-pocket acoustic piano solo. The laidback lilt of "Curtains/Before We Go," which provided the foundation for rapper Nelly's naughty "Pimp Juice" remix, is reborn with its original balladic beauty, featuring a lush orchestral/synth introduction and another Irene B vocal treatment, graced by Marienthal's piercing sax solo. The complex tempoed, samba-fied "Chinese Medicinal Herbs," is a showcase for Dave Weckl's technically brilliant and crisp drumming.
The Blood, Sweat and Tears horns are featured on the funky "Dr. Moy," and "Pixel." Lorber's take on Wayne Shorter's Weather Report classic, "Mysterious traveler," manages to stay true to its exotic and evocative aural aura, while interjecting some intelligent urban rhythmic motifs to the mix. Lorber's pianismacoustic and electricis short and sweet, but to the point; along with Haslip's ingenious bass lines and Weckl's lickety-split rhythms. All told, Lorber and his fusioneers serve up a pleasing disc that confirms that old saying that (musically speaking) some things are better the second time around.
Rain Dance/Wanna Fly; Dr. Moy; Pixel; Sugar Free; Mysterious Traveller; Curtains/Before We Go; Black Ice; Las Rosas; Chinese Medicinal Herbs; Sumatra.
Jeff Lorber: keyboards; Irene B: vocals (1, 4, 6, 10); Paul Jackson Jr.: guitar (1, 3, 4, 7, 10); Randy Brecker: flugelhorn (1); Jimmy Haslip: bass (1, 3-11); Vinnie Colaiuta: drums (1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10); Jimmy Branly: percussion (1, 5, 7, 9) drums (6, 11); Eric Marienthal: saxophones (2, 3, 5-11); Michael Thompson: guitar (5, 6, 8, 11); Tony Maiden: guitar (2); Alex Al: bass (2); Li'l John Roberts: drums (2); Lenny Castro: percussion (2); Larry Koonse: guitar (9); Tom Timko: flute (1, 3, 9, 11); Steve Jankowski: flugelhorn (9), trumpet (1, 3, 11); Dave Weckl: drums (9); Jens Wendelboe: trombone (1, 3, 11); Teddy Mulet: lead trumpet ( 1, 3, 11).