Jeff Lorber Interview
On the Flip Side With
by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
One of the fantastic keyboard players in this business, musically he’s a quiet assassin. He’s got a great new CD out following up the chart blasting “Philly Style”. His new record is called Flipside. Please join me talking with a master of the keyboard Mr. Jeff Lorber.
Smitty: Before we go any further, let me tell you; after listening to this new record, you are still the Schiznick! So tell me, what’s the flip side of Jeff Lorber?
JL: Thank you Smitty. Well you know, Flip Side has a couple of different meanings. One meaning is, with musicians, when you talk about flipping something, and you’re usually talking about taking something that you usually do but taking a different approach to it. You’re not doing it the same way but just sort of being creative with what you’re working on. And that’s definitely what we tried to do on this album, to try and take a creative approach to the idea of smooth jazz and contemporary jazz and to just kind of include some new elements and some new ways of approaching it. And at the same time, when I was working on this new record, I was kind of going through a real life changing situation. After I made the record I went in, in late November and had a kidney transplant.
Smitty: Yeah I heard about that.
JL: Luckily everything was successful and I’m feeling great. And that sort of relates too. Because I’m kind of on the flip side of that situation and feeling very good about it, very lucky and very grateful of course. So the title has sort of that meaning for me also.
Smitty: Yeah so it has a dual meaning. We’re glad you’re doing better man. That’s great!
JL: Thank you.
Smitty: Speaking of FLIPSIDE, you’ve done some very creative things with this new record, and it is a great record man. Talk to me about some of the things you did. I know you used two drum kits which is kind of a cool thing.
JL: Well, I worked with Steve Dubin. He was kind of my co writer and collaborator on a lot of the songs as I have on the last two albums. The last two records we brought a great rhythm section in. We had John Roberts on drums, Tony Madien and Alex Al. And that formed sort of the basis of those records. We created the rhythm tracks for that band. After that the songs were almost done. They just needed a little bit of work. But this record, we took a different approach. We sort of created each piece, like we overdubbed up each instrument separately. In a way it was much more time consuming. Just bringing a band in and playing the songs and getting those great performances, is a very fast and easy way to make a record. But we took a different approach. We wanted the record to sound modern. As far as what we did with the drums, we use the same drummer that we have been using. John Roberts is a phenomenal player. He’s toured with everyone from Sheila E, Rachelle Ferrell, recorded with George Duke on his last couple of records. He’s just a phenomenal player. But anyway, we brought in a couple of different drum kits. One was sort of a modern kit that we recorded with a lot of microphones, like people normally do nowadays. And the other kit was this like sort of old Slingerland kit like something that Ringo Starr might have played in the 60’s. And we recorded that in mono with just a few microphones. We did that just as an experiment to see if we’d like it and ended up using that on about half the album. There’s something that’s very direct and very powerful about recording something that simply. Nowadays things get more complex, you have more tracks. People don’t even remember what it was like back in the days. They use to record a whole drum kit, with just one microphone really.
Smitty: Oh Yeah.
JL: Those old Led Zeppelin records and old jazz records, the band would just go into the studio and record and that would be it. It wouldn’t even be recorded to a multi track tape, it would be just kind of recorded to a two inch tape and that performance would be the record. There wouldn’t be any overdubs. But nowadays with so much digital recording, you have so much control over every element and over the sound of each instrument. And sort of unlimited tracks and unlimited ability to add things if you want to.
Smitty: Very true. But it seems like you kept it simple but with some astonishing elements.
JL: That’s one thing about Steve Dubin, working with him. From the very beginning of working with him, he sort of emphasized trying to keep things stripped down and don’t add anything to the track unless it’s really necessary. Kind of keep that more minimalistic approach where each element means something and it’s all contributing to the whole.
Smitty: It’s a beautiful sound, and Steve Dubin is a bad boy in his own right. There’s no doubt about that. I love his work. My hat’s off to him. But tell me a little bit too about Nelson Jackson, this keyboard player. I love this cat’s style.
JL: Yes, he’s kind of a secret weapon. Steve has been bringing him in as the co writer on a lot of stuff that we’ve been working on. He’s just a young man from the L.A. area. Basically he’s very involved in the gospel music scene here. I think every Sunday he’s playing two different gigs at two different churches.
JL: Yeah, he’s the man. You know he’s just a very strong keyboard player, he’s very funky and he’s got a great feel. In everything that we did, he played a lot of the base lines and came up with some of the basic chords. He was a co writer on about four of the songs of the album. Everything that we recorded with him, we didn’t quantitize it. Like a lot of the time when you use a sequencer, you use digital recording, you quantitize stuff to make it perfectly in time because it feels good. But this guy has such a great sense of time and such a great feel that we didn’t want to do that. We just kind of recorded everything he did; just exactly the way he played it. I think that really adds kind of a neat flavor to the record.
Smitty: I love the vibe. It’s definitely high definition that’s for sure. Now talk to me about this whole concept of improvisation. I mean this is not something new, but it seemed to be very important to you on this particular project.
JL: Well, yeah another thing that was different about the last couple of records was that we really focused on songwriting. As far as soloing was concerned, the solos were a little bit constrained. You know we’d just have a short solo in the middle of the song and maybe a solo on the way out. But on this record we took a really different approach. On a lot of the songs there’s almost improvisation and soloing from the beginning to the end of the songs. Much more free and we just used some of the advantages of digital recording, where from the earliest point in the writing process it’s really easy to capture those performances in a really high quality way. And retain that sort of initial inspiration and we definitely approached this record like that.
Smitty: Isn’t it true that the first take is sometimes the best take?
JL: Yes absolutely, and the reason why is because, you know it’s sort of like the first time you’ve ever heard those chords and that beat and there is just something really magical about that very first time that you try and play on something. And it can really just have a vibe about it that you can’t get any other way. You know, one artist that I worked with in the past, I do a lot of production, and one guy that really comes to mind as someone that always retained that first take was Art Porter. Everything that I recorded with him, he’d go into the studio and he’d play that first take and that’d be it. We would actually try to beat it, we’d play more takes, but it was always the first take that ended up being used. Once in a while we’d like kind of repair a little something here or there. But more or less everything was that first take.
Smitty: How many times have we said to ourselves, “Man if we had did that first take, that first take was so cool I wish we had done that one you know.”
JL: Yes you’re absolutely right.
Smitty: And you’ve got to talk to me about this horn section. I mean, this is some great work and I can’t say enough about the production. It seems like you’re very deliberate in the arrangements with the horn section on an improvisational level.
JL: Well we used Gary Meek and Ron King, who we’ve used before. On my last couple of records we used those guys on some of the songs. We also used Jerry Hey who’s incredible, of course he’s world famous for all of his work with Quincy Jones and all of the unbelievable records he’s done over the years. But in this record we were kind of looking for a more loose approach, and everything that Jerry Hey does, most of it is very polished and really perfect and really well thought out. We actually wanted to go for something that didn’t sound like that at all, something that was sort of looser and more spontaneous. And one thing we did this time that we’ve never done before, we didn’t have any horn charts at all. Just let the guys go in, sometimes we’d give them some ideas and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d just say to just go with whatever you feel. And so as a result the horn stuff that’s on there is much more, it’s just got a different vibe. It sounds more live and more improvised. Like the song Sun Ra really stands out. It’s a very unusual song because it’s sort of a combination of reggae and kind of a stack sort of Memphis R&B feel, if you can imagine what that is. If you hear the song you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Smitty: Yes I’ve heard it.
JL: We have Paul Jackson playing reggae guitar, but when the horn section went in, I told them to basically take that Stack R&B approach to the horn line and so that’s a really neat element.
Smitty: Yes that is. It’s a different approach, I mean I noticed it right away. It’s a great vibe; it’s different but seriously a cool vibe. And Ooh La La! Come on man, that’s a nice tune. It’s got some of that Jamaican and Latin kind of feel to it. What was the idea there?
JL: Well that was just one of those songs where every once in a while you get these sort of magic songs that just come together very quickly with a lot of spontaneity. Basically it was a track that Nelson and Steve had put together for the most part. And I just came in and played, like what you hear I just came in and played on top of it, it was the first time I heard it. It just kind of has a catchy melody and some kind of magic that we always love. It’s funny because when you get into making an album, sometimes you lose a little bit of objectivity. You don’t really know what people are going to like and what’s going to stand out. We always loved that song and we’re hoping that others will too. We were very relieved when we handed the record in and a lot of people at the record company that heard the album all agreed and thought that Ooh La La would be the first single, we all agreed with that and were glad that they chose that song.
Smitty: Yeah man, that’s a kickin’ tune I tell you. I mean these are all great songs. I love Santa Monica Triangle, I love to kind of get up to that and do my thing.
JL: Yes Santa Monica Triangle is probably the most different song on the record of anything that I’ve ever done. It’s got a little bit of a kind of electronic feeling to it; it’s got like a little dance hall kind of reggae group. There’s a lot of reggae influence on this album. And there’s also another influence on this album, it’s sort of unusual, like an old time Jazz. You know like we were talking about that old drum set that we used. Just the swing feel that’s on the title track Flip Side.
Smitty: That retro throw back thing.
JL: Yeah exactly. When I think about this album, that’s kind of what stands out to me in terms of what’s really different about it is those elements.
Smitty: As if we didn’t think you could do something to top Philly Style and Kickin’ It. This is a great arrangement of songs and I love the improvisonal approach to it. And it was sort of a let it be style, you know when you played over the top. Regardless, this is Jeff Lorber, in other words I felt you were telling us that this is Jeff Lorber, this is the flip side, and this is real, groove with it you know.
JL: Yes that’s it, that’s the feeling.
Smitty: Very cool. So now the record comes out today.
JL: Today is the day!
Smitty: How about that? Well I anticipate some great things for this record and can’t say enough about it. Now you’ve got to tell me about the cover art, the picture here.
JL: The cover of an album is so important to me. You want to have great artwork that kind of reflects the music inside. And sometimes it’s tough, because if you’re a musician, you’re not necessarily a graphic artist. So you don’t really have talents in that area, you have to trust other people. But what happened with this record is that I had a friend that I met when we played at the Jazz Café in London. His name is Vincent van de Wijngaard. He’s just a very avid fan of Jazz and of my music. He’s a photographer and I’d had a chance to check out his pictures which are just incredible. From an early stage, I wanted to involve some of his cool images on this album cover. Luckily the art director at Narada really liked one of them and that became the cover. It’s got that sort of beach scene that fits in with the reggae influence that’s on the album. The whole album has a kind of a vibe of being in escape, you know you put the album on and chill out just kind of get swept away in that world that it takes you to. And that’s sort of what the cover represents, very colorful, a very vibrant image. I thought it worked very well with the quality of the music that’s inside.
Smitty: Yeah man, impressive. Well I tell you Jeff, I think there are more sides than just a FLIPSIDE to Jeff Lorber, but this is a beautiful side.
JL: Thank you
Smitty: Hey man, best of everything with this record and the first single coming out and your health more importantly. We’re glad to have you around.
JL: Me too, believe me! Like I said I’m just so thankful and I really consider myself to be so lucky and I plan on taking advantage of my good fortune as much as I can in terms of making great music basically.
Smitty: Cool. Well we certainly look forward to hearing more of this great stuff from you. We’ve been talking with Narada Jazz recording artist Jeff Lorber. He has a great new CD out, it’s called FLIPSIDE and there are many shades and layers in this great project. I highly recommend it and it’s in stores today. So please pick this one up. Jeff, thanks for the great conversation, best of health and best of everything to you my friend.
JL: Same to you.