Jeff Lorber Fusion

Heads Up ***
The smooth jazz cedilla, the genre's potential equivalent of the heavy metal umlaut, is missing from Hacienda, more's the pity, Lorber’s part tribute to the Manchester club that came with the cedilla, house, copious amounts of ecstasy, and much else. Frank Zappa fans will just laugh at the version of ‘King Kong’ here although Jean-Luc Ponty gives it his best in a guest slot, but beyond the fromage Vinnie Colaiuta is quite brilliant steering the motley crew. It’s the cheese of the marimba that got me, but then again Zappa fans like their gorgonzola. But to be, yes, frank, there’s not a massive amount of irony on the album. Lorber (it’s fusion only up to a point) though really flies on ‘Solar Wind’, and saxophonist Eric Marienthal sounds less processed than he usually does on this particular track. However, the problem/virtue of smooth jazz depending on your point of view is the finessing to the nth degree of any keyboard/guitar/sax to within an inch of its life. But the saxophone is left alone more on 'Solar Wind' and Eric's approach so much better than the output of other leading smooth jazz “icons”, your Kozes, Coles, and what have you.

Hacienda will mystify house music fans, and I'm understating this, so the tribute idea is a bit half-cock, but when the album kicks into open jazz-rock mode it’s much better. Let's face it, though, you’ll hear a pretty melody like ‘The Steppe’ blasting out as call centre waiting music. Bass legend Jimmy Haslip part of the Fusion triumvirate here with Lorber and Marienthal is as solid as a rock everywhere on the album, and on ‘The Steppe’ it’s his role that subtly lifts the tune although you will have little alternative but to listen to the cheesy sax of Marienthal reverting back to smooth jazz orthodoxy.

Polite people don’t talk about smooth jazz but they go in their droves to the clubs even now to listen to it. I’m not quite sure why this is, but as the genre reaches its natural conclusion and pops its clogs as it more or less has done on the radio the drift more to old school jazz-rock (ie with less processing, more volume, and better heightened contrasts) is to be welcomed and you would have thought Lorber knows this.

The title track moves dangerously into Rippingtons territory, which would have ruined the album for me entirely if that had held, but it doesn’t. Irony-free ‘Fab Gear’ once more has a sunny feel, again very light and frothy; but I liked ‘Raptor’ where Colaiuta lifts the band (he’s on ‘Fab Gear’ as well), David Mann’s flute line ingeniously sewn in and his arrangement on the tune the pick of the album. ‘Everlast’ is more call centre generic again, but I liked Lorber’s opening to ‘Playa del Falco’. When you manage to isolate Lorber in the band sound you’ll think of Bob James a lot which is probably the right sort of lineage. Forget about ‘Escapade’, the overdubbed heavily processed cod polyphonic sax a complete pain. Dave Weckl no less turns up on ‘Dragonfly’ at the end, and his tastily loping very cool swing will have the usual suspects salivating. And why not? But it's Vinnie who steals the show. Stephen Graham
Released on Monday