Jeff Lorber Fusion: The Drop 

The jazz-funk keyboardist might be following a formula but it's one that's distinctively his own in a crowded field and still works


Keyboard player, composer and producer Jeff Lorber first emerged on the scene fresh from Berklee in the mid-1970s, swiftly formed a band and released his first album, Jeff Lorber Fusion in 1977. The record was stylistically typical of the disco-influenced jazz-funk of the day: what many call the  second wave of fusion that gave rise to acts such as Bob James, Tom Scott’s L.A Express and Spyro Gyra.

What made Lorber’s early run of albums into the 1980s stand out from many others of that time was they were recorded by a core group of mostly unknowns, as opposed to name players or first-call session guys. Forty-six years and 25-plus albums as a leader later the Grammy-winner’s music is still hung around the same jazz funk premise – albeit smoother in style – yet it’s long been crafted by the super-sessioners his reputation as an artist has now attracted.

Listening to the punchy, groove-driven cuts on The Drop it’s the vibe created by stellar players like bass maestro Jimmy Haslip, drummer Gary Novak and Snarky Puppy guitarist Mark Lettieri that bring Lorber’s melodically fit funk arrangements to life. Indeed, from the opening title cut – with its simplistic theme on keys doubled up by Haslip – the music is always spaciously arranged for all for all to stretch within the confines of the rhythm section’s ever-tight pocket.

Typically slick in production and playing as it is, one small gripe is that some of Lorber’s recent output is becoming sonically and melodically alike. An example of this would be the track here On The Bus, which, to my ears, sounds like a protraction of Righteous from Eleven, the album which Lorber recorded with guitarist Mike Stern and which was one of this writer’s most played discs of 2019. Maybe my minor criticism here is based on my affection for, and comparison to, Lorber’s more organic and stylistically varied discs such as 2012’s Galaxy or the equally sundry He Had A Hat from 2007.

Still, with Lorber continuing to satisfy his funk itch and writing  earworms like New Mexico, Keep On Moving and Mindshare, The Drop undoubtedly delivers and grooves sublimely.

The Drop; Altered State; New Mexico; On The Bus; Hang Tight; Liberty; Keep Moving; Mindshare; Reception; Tail Lights (38.38)
Lorber (kyb, p, Rhodes, Minimoog, syn b, g); Cornelius Mims, Jimmy Haslip (b); Gary Novak (d); Randal Clark (as); Paul Jackson Jr, Mark Lettieri (g); David Mann (f, horn arr). JHL Sound, California 2023.
Shanachie Entertainment SH 5507