It was in 1977 that the Jeff Lorber Fusion released its self-titled debut and in so doing signposted a musical journey that for Lorber would endure to this day. Although he dropped the name ‘Fusion’ after the group’s 1981 ‘Galaxian’ project he was, by then, very much on a roll. Indeed, the wealth of music he created on the six albums recorded between 1979 and 1985 marked him out as a significant player in the development of the R&B-jazz amalgam that later evolved into what we now recognize as smooth jazz. Every subsequent CD has always offered something different and now he is turning back the clock, not only by recording his brand new ‘Now Is The Time’ under the name ‘Jeff Lorber Fusion’ but also by taking the opportunity to blend some of the best tunes from his early ‘’Fusion’ years with six fresh sounds. The outcome is an engaging compilation that will appeal both to his long-time fans and those discovering his wonderful music for the first time.
‘Now Is The Time’ features some interesting collaborations and finds Lorber partnering with producers Bobby Columby and Jimmy Haslip. Columby is a founder member of the group Blood, Sweat & Tears and has also produced a number of CD’s for Chris Botti. Haslip needs little introduction as a mainstay of the legendary Yellowjackets and both are on hand as co-writers with Lorber for the funky ‘Pixel’ that includes excellent cameos from Paul Jackson Jr, Eric Marienthal and the ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ horns.
Columby also provides a writing input to the enticingly mellow ‘Las Rosas’ for which Lorber on piano is at his intimate best while in complete contrast, ‘Black Ice’ from the 1978 recording ‘Soft Space’ delivers the sort of energetic groove that typifies the early days of jazz fusion. Another glimpse of the past comes in the form of the complex ‘Chinese Medicinal Herbs’ from the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s very first CD. Here Dave Weckl on drums is outstanding and when drumming duties switch to Lil John Roberts (who is a frequent member of George Benson’s touring band) the result is the strident ‘Dr Moy’ where Marienthal on sax again comes up big.
Lorber finds a place for Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report classic ‘Mysterious Traveller’ which, compared to the original, is much funkier and hard hitting. The way Lorber blends such retrospectives with original new music is a delight and a case in point is how the brass enriched ‘Sumatra’ counterbalances the familiar hip-shaking strains of ‘Rain Dance’. Previously an instrumental from Lorber’s 1979 ‘Water Sign’ project, it is afforded a whole new dimension by the fabulous vocals of Barcelona born and Florida based Irene B. Truth to tell she is at the heart of much that is great about ‘Now Is The Time’ and as Lorber stays with the ‘Water Sign’ collection for the intricate title cut her smoky interjections dazzle like light on water. Even better is Irene’s performance on ‘Sugar Free’ which is arguably the album’s best track. A jazzy soulful swagger, nice guitar from Jackson Jr and killer bass from Haslip all combine to make this something really special.
‘Now Is The Time’ will be released on the Heads Up International label on June 1 and is well worth checking out.