Fusion. Is there a dirtier word to the refined ears of the jazz connoisseur? For them the sound of their sacred music mashed up with low-brow rock or common R n' B rhythms must be as harsh and annoying as sharpened nails dragging across a blackboard.
Well, suck it up, buttercups, because Prototype is nothing if not Jeff Lorber and his crew of merrymakers rocking and rolling and funkin' it up as bad they wanna be. The core of the band are longtime collaborators Lorber on keyboards and Jimmy Haslip on bass with drummer Gary Novak and saxophonist Andy Snitzer as the new guy. Aided, abetted and augmenting the sound are David Mann's snappy horn arrangements and some solid guitar work from Michael Thompson, Larry Koonse, Jarius Mozee, Chuck Loeb and Paul Jackson Jr.
The keyboards-sax-bass and drums makes up the core, but its the prevalence of those guitarists which takes Prototype to the next level. Check out the shredding Thompson rips off at the end of "Prototype." There's some nasty rock riffing on "Test Drive" between Thompson and Jarius Mozee with Lorber doing triple duty on synth bass, guitar, and keyboards including a solo on he B3, while Snitzer soars on alto sax.
"What's the Deal" soars with Snitzer's tenor sax and Mann's horn arrangements echoing old school Tower of Power on a very good day. Even when it as nothing out of the ordinary is happening on "The Badness" or "Hidden Agenda" beyond the standard keyboards/guitar/sax with a kick-butt rhythm section pumping up the groove, it still doesn't sound like a paint-by-numbers time filler.
Too many records front-load the best material in the first three or four tracks and drop in the filler in the middle to the end. Not here. There's not a moment on Prototype which seems phoned in. Lorber, along with Bob James, is one of the last men standing in playing this kind of high energy jazz with Herbie Hancock opting out and Joe Sample and George Duke gone to that the great gig in the sky, he's pretty much cornered the market. With the Haslip/Novak rhythm section already in place, the only thing missing was a dynamic saxophonist to replace the departed Eric Marienthal. Enter Snitzer who doesn't simply fill the vacated space of his predecessor; he makes it his own.
April is too soon to choose a Best Album of the Year, but not too soon to suggest Prototype deserves to be considered a serious contender for the title.
Hyperdrive; Prototype; Test Drive; What’s the Deal; Vienna; The Badness; Hidden Agenda; Gucci; Park West; River Song
Jeff Lorber: keyboards, guitar, synth bass; Jimmy Haslip: electric bass; Andy Snitzer: alto, tenor & soprano sax; Gary Novak: drums; Nathan East: bass (1); Chuck Loeb: melody guitar (1); Paul Jackson Jr.: rhythm guitar (1, 7); David Mann: horn arrangement, string arrangement & performance; Michael Thompson: guitars (2-4, 6-10); Jarius Mozee: guitar (3, 4); Larry Koonse: guitar (5, 8)