Undoubtedly at the very pinnacle of his career and at the vanguard of what might be described as smooth jazz for grown ups guitarist Chuck Loeb has just released the wonderful ‘Unspoken’. Out on the invariably excellent Shanachie label this superb eleven-song collection features a dazzling array of guest artists and is making a late bid to become one of the year’s standout recordings.
‘Unspoken’ is quickly up and running with the jazzy ‘Cotton Club’ which Loeb co-writes with Jeff Lorber who also contributes piano. In fact the track showcases a veritable who’s who from the world of contemporary jazz with the likes of David Mann on sax, drummer Gary Novak, and Pat Bianchi on organ all playing a part.
The deliciously silky yet understated title cut finds these fine players supplemented by Brian Culbertson who features on piano. Guitarist Michael Thompson also does his thing for a number that is right up there with the best that the album has to offer and, in this respect, is in the good company of the smoky ‘Affinity’ where Everette Harp comes up big on sax.
Loeb is one of those performers who can walk the tightrope between smooth and straight ahead jazz without falling off. Others with that same capacity are Jeff Lorber and Eric Marienthal so it is no surprise that when this threesome combine the result is ‘Treetops’ that succeeds in fusing these styles to incredible effect. Loeb repeats the feat with ‘Cut And Run’ that is played out as a trio with David Mann on flute and Brian Dunne on drums while elsewhere ‘Si Si Puede’ proves to be a mellow Latin extravaganza enhanced by velvety trumpet from Till Bronner. Loeb stays with a Latin groove for ‘Varamar’ that showcases the outstanding vocals of his wife, Carmen Cuesta and ‘Way Up High’ where Cuesta’s contribution is again telling. Later, when she returns to weave her musical spell with the evocative ‘Via Verde’ the song is turned into a glorious family affair by the input on ukulele and vocals of their daughter Christina.
Of course besides his solo work Chuck Loeb is an integral member of the super group Fourplay and he evokes the vibe of this outstanding quartet with the distinctly hip ‘Happy Hour’. However, no-one could ever criticize Loeb for not being his own man and this is exemplified by ‘Natural Light’ that, complete with a killer beat and great soprano sax from Andy Snitzer, is textbook Loeb an then some.