Jeff Lorber Fusion – Prototype (2017)

The title for the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s new album is Prototype because, states Lorber, “we are always trying to up our game and come up with new exciting music that could be a prototype or innovative harbinger for the future of our musical style.” Truth is, the funk-jazz keyboardist, composer and producer has been prototyping since the late 70s, and his synthesis of styles taken from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, The Crusaders and Chick Corea’s Return To Forever has in itself become the beacon for every groove-oriented jazzer (and many a rapper) who’s followed.

Prototype is dropping on March 24, 2017 and marks his first for Shanachie Entertainment. Maybe the current edition of his Jeff Lorber Fusion will end up just as influential or maybe it won’t but it’s never been as talent-laden as it is now. JLF, Version 2 has always boasted bass boss/Yellowjackets co-founder Jimmy Haslip, and for the last several years have had the rhythms handled by first-call drummer Gary Novak. Saxophonist Andy Snitzer is the newcomer to the band, a worthy successor to Eric Marienthal and has the extra credential of hailing from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. That’s the same ‘burg from which Lorber and the Brecker Brothers sprang from.

Special guests abound, such as Larry Koonse, Paul Jackson, Jr. and Chuck Loeb contributing sharp guitar work on various tracks. Loeb along with bass ace Nathan East are both on board for the sleek advance single “Hyperdrive” we profiled a couple of weeks ago, reuniting Jeff Lorber with the bassist who was virtually an unknown when he appeared on Lorber’s 1982 It’s A Fact release.

Every song grooves but finds different ways to do it. “Prototype” is blues at heart, and accordingly, Snitzer reaches deep in his soul for his turn while Lorber’s pianisms are strongly rooted in gospel. On the other hand, the high struttin’ “Test Drive” rocks. David Mann’s punchy horn arrangements give “What’s The Deal” a kick in the pants as does Lorber’s greasy organ solo.

Check out Haslip shadowing Jeff Lorber’s piano on “Vienna,” then handing off the task to Snitzer. That snake-like lead line is vintage Lorber, and none of his acolytes have never been able to quite replicate that signature style. “The Badness” borrows that gritty groove from The Crusaders’ Chain Reaction opener “Creole” where Snitzer’s sax soars like David Sanborn’s and Lorber gets funky on a vintage 1972 Fender Rhodes. “Hidden Agenda” isn’t as knotty as the other tracks but it’s got the catchiest chorus of the album, and Paul Jackson, Jr. reels off a short but savory solo.

After a couple more strong, robust entries with “Gucci” and “Park West,” the JLF finally slows down to ballad speed for the concluding “River Song,” that allows Novak to reveal all the nuances in his drumming.

It’s a new label with Shanachie but it remains the same ol’ Jeff Lorber Fusion, whose leader long ago set the standard and firmly maintains it for forty years going on Prototype.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron