Summer is on its final days folks. The mornings and nights here in NYC are already cooling off with much delight. With autumn fast approaching, what better way to welcome it then with some great jazz? To continue on with my endless jazz series, I decided to follow up with a musician I have enjoyed since the early days of high school.
Jeff Lorber is one of those masters of the jazz field that has always found a way to have his fingers in many musical projects. He has been successful as both solo artist and with his work in the Jeff Lorber Fusion, which employs the talent of bassist Jimmy Haslip as co-producer. Other musicians that help the duo with their fusion are David Mann, Lenny Castro, Bob Mintzer, Robben Ford, Ash Soan, Gary Novak, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gary Meek, Michael Thompson and Paul Jackson Jr. With this ambitious collaboration, a fine sound has returned with their new album, ‘Step It Up,’ that will be available September 25th. Jeff was kind enough to share some thoughts on his latest work and music in general to date.
Music comes about rather naturally for Jeff. “I’m always writing. Jimmy came over and checked out what I was working on and suggested we move in a different direction. As a result Jimmy ended up co-writing a great deal of the record and we came up with this concept of a modern version of 70’s modal jazz somewhat influenced by Miles Davis, old CTI records, The Crusaders and Joe Henderson.”
Mr. Lorber has quite the long list of impressive pieces under his belt. I asked if any were memorable in his mind. “My album ‘Water Sign’ stands out to me because I think that was my first record that really established the sound of the Jeff Lorber Fusion going forward and that album in particular holds together well and has some good compositions. I feel like the last few records I’ve been making with Jimmy Haslip and Bobby Colomby are all on a high level and have pushed that concept into a modern place that also reflects the musical world around us.”
I was curious to learn if Jeff had any ideal performances or musical moments in his career. “I’m always working towards that. I guess you could look at that question both from a recording point of view or a live performance situation. The live experience is influenced a lot by the acoustic space, vibe of the audience and what kind of inspiration as a band we are able to wield to make a transcendental experience. We always do our best and some venues seem to have a magical effect on the music. A few venues that come to mind would be Red Rocks, the Perugia jazz festival or even the Hollywood Bowl. As far as in the studio we always try to invoke that kind of inspiration that can be recorded but we have to kind of create the excitement within ourselves rather than feel it from the audience and atmosphere. It’s more difficult but it’s something that good studio musicians can accomplish.”
Not all shows are easy; Jeff shared how he makes it past those moments. “Difficult performances are usually what you want to forget about as fast as possible… We unfortunately run into situations where the equipment isn’t working great, the monitors aren’t ideal and it’s hard to hear or we just aren’t feeling our best for some reason. As Jimmy Haslip likes to say, we ‘put our helmets on’ and get through it the best we can. Amazingly enough the strength of the band dynamic and the encouragement of the audience is usually enough to help us power through any difficulties to make something good out of a bad situation.”
With the music world evolving quickly, as a jazz musician, I wondered if Mr. Lorber had any insights into it all. “That’s a huge question, things have changed so much it’s hard to know where to start. However one thing I can say is that as a music fan I love having the history of recorded music, new and old, at my fingertips at all times with Spotify and Apple music. If the vast majority of the listening public was like me and subscribed to both of those services I think there would be enough money going to the recording industry to keep it healthy for a long time. Unfortunately I don’t think the popularity has reached a critical mass yet. Also all the wonderful recording technology makes my job easier and more fun and creative than it used to be.” Well, that is a simple yet worthwhile proposition to take. I like it and am happy he is using the modern day craft as best he can. He is optimizing all that will help grow his sound and possibly his audience.
Music remains his chief medium while he continuously keeps his eyes open. “I’m interested in a lot of other things and like to read and learn, however, in terms of a job and profession trying to keep current and the challenge of always trying to come up with fresh funky new tracks is something that keeps me looking forward to going into the studio every day. I am involved in a lot of aspects of the music business: touring, education, composition, production, performance so that’s quite a variety of activities, I don’t get bored! I’m always trying to keep my ears open to new ideas that are exciting and try to use that as a basis for new compositions. I don’t put limits on myself so anything is possible.” Spoken like a true artist!
Influences are wide for Mr. Lorber; however, he was able to share two in particular. “I’m inspired by so many great musicians however in terms of my primary influences as a piano player I’d have to list Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.” Both are excellent choices. As a fan who has seen Herbie Hancock live, I can appreciate his skill in his field and his impact on his contemporaries like Jeff.
When asked what Jeff was going to do for the rest of the day, he gave me the perfect response. “Ha-Ha I’m in Atlanta getting ready to do a show here so I’m going to practice a little in the hotel room after answering your questions! Also have some coffee.”
The next Jeff Lorber Fusion album, ‘Step It Up,’ will be released September 25th and I for one am eagerly excited for it. I recommend that you all explore both Jeff’s and Jimmy’s discography and get ready for this new addition. I promise you that there will be gems in all of the works that will open you all to a new world of great jazz music. Please enjoy on these final summer weekends!