Jeff Lorber – Jazz Supergroup

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The Jazz Superband U.S. tour
Jeff Lorber, Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, Lenny White
by Denis Naranjo

A special jazz invitation proved Jeff Lorber cou
ldn’t pass up a good thing too many times. Netting a tour spotlight in a recognized contemporary jazz band has advanced his own superlatives to another level.

As part of a three-week, 19-city U.S. tour in March, the Jazz Superband, with keyboardist Lorber, electric bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Larry Carlton, and drummer Lenny White, forced jazz fans within earshot to check out musicianship rarely packaged on tour or appreciated at once on stage.

“A promoter for Stanley (Clarke) brought this together. He’s done previous ‘jazz explosion’ tours with Stanley, Billy Cobham, Najee, and Larry Carlton. I had offers before but didn’t think the timing was right for what I was doing. But this time, the situation was special so I climbed aboard,” says Lorber, on tour from his hometown of Philadelphia. “The extraordinary thing is everyone’s musicianship is at a high level. I only have to carry the tune at various times during the show.”

Already regarded as four celebrated fusion artists, the group’s band name seemed to suggest a more towering display of musicality. Despite this presumptuous tag, they harnessed interplay and unearthed rarified atmospheres of melodic nuance and frenzied improvisation.

As heard in Detroit, where like in Lorber’s Philadelphia hometown, their marquee billing called for a split-show engagement. Lorber’s “Tune 88” opened the 90-minute foray, as the composer led an invigorating chart, reborn from his “Water Sign” days. From here, each song would invoke flashbacks to its original gleam, signaling artistic milestones achieved by each Jazz Superband artist.

Carlton’s bluesy electric guitar stretched out spryly on “Josie,” reviving sentiment for the Steely Dan “Aja” album which he originally recorded on. “Good-bye Pork-Pie Hat” had a plethora of harmonic glisten between Carlton and Clarke, quoting Mingus’ gem with warmth and sensitivity.

White’s “Door No. 3” docked into a beefy syncopated groove, where Lorber’s signature charm on “Katherine” dished up a spine-tingling array of keyboard delicacies. Naturally, predictable bass thunder eventually arose on Clarke’s “School Days,” taken to fever pitch rhythmically by Carlton and White, and further skyward by Clarke.

But the show’s defining moment was a near all-acoustic jazz cruise, “Song to John.” Deferring to Coltrane’s sax legacy, the quartet shifted seamlessly into Clarke’s straight-ahead glide, driven by White’s velvety brush work using only a snare drum and hi-hat. Swinging solos, with Lorber infusing robust 4/4 lines, Carlton’s refined acoustic guitar, and Clarke’s deft double-bass work, lifted their collective aura to a new zenith, measurably supreme.

Lorber, who is featured on Pieces of a Dream’s latest record, is close to self-releasing a new CD, titled “Midnight.” It features live tracks done with the late alto saxophonist Art Porter (who he produced), and some holdover tunes that just missed the cut for “West Side Stories,” one of three titles Lorber recorded for PolyGram’s Verve Forecast label.

“Midnight” also includes familiar sidemen in guitarists Michael Landau and Buzz Feiten, bassist Nate Phillips, drummer John ‘J.R.’ Robinson, saxman Gary Meek, and percussionist Paulinho da Costa. Lorber straps on a guitar too, delivering ample axe time.

“I try to stay at the cutting edge of the music, incorporating new ideas and technologies. Which means listening to various music, from jazz to R&B and rap, striving to be an innovator and exploring fresh possibilities as a composer-producer,” he says.

Lorber, who has discovered and produced artists like saxophonists Kenny G and Dave Koz, singers Audrey Wheeler, Karyn White, Michael Franks, and Jon Lucien continues to strike gold. Besides working with saxman Eric Marienthal, trumpeter Herb Alpert, and singer Eric Benet, Lorber is gearing up to produce another hot property in L.A. music circles, singer Chelsea Ware. Says Lorber, stay tuned for this one.

Be sure to visit Jeff Lorbers web site.