Music News & Reviews

Jeff Lorber forges the smooth link for Jazz Funk Soul

Jeff Lorber comes to the Lexus Smooth Jazz Fest with the Jazz Funk Soul trio, also featuring Paul Jackson Jr. and Everette Harp.
Jeff Lorber comes to the Lexus Smooth Jazz Fest with the Jazz Funk Soul trio, also featuring Paul Jackson Jr. and Everette Harp. Chapman and Co. Management

Jazz Funk Soul

Trio featuring Paul Jackson Jr., Jeff Lorber and Everette Harp. 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground, 4089 Iron Works Parkway, for the Lexus Smooth Jazz Fest. $25, $75. 859-255-2653. Aafinc.com/jazz.htm, Lorber.com.

The band name spells out what you need to know: Jazz Funk Soul. Three genres, one sound. For Jeff Lorber, finding both a voice and an audience for such a musical hybrid has fueled a career spanning more than four decades.

“My focus is a little more towards the rhythm and the funk side of things,” said the veteran keyboardist, composer and producer, who forms one third of Jazz Funk Soul with saxophonist Everette Harp and guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. “We all come together in our love of bebop and the use of bebop vocabulary and jazz harmonies in the music.”

Jazz audiences may more readily associate Lorber with the music he has fashioned since the late 1970s with his own ensemble, The Jeff Lorber Fusion. Jazz Funk Soul, however, is more collaborative in design. The trio has released two albums with its original guitarist, Chuck Loeb, who is currently off the road for health reasons. Jackson, a veteran session player who has recorded with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Chicago, Elton John and scores of others before joining the house band for “American Idol” and, eventually, the “Tonight Show” band, is hardly a new presence to Lorber. The guitarist has been featured on many of his recordings, including the newly released Jeff Lorber Fusion album, “Prototype.”

“With the Jeff Lorber Fusion, I’m the boss. It’s my music and that’s it, which is great. I love that. We started out as a local band in Portland, Oregon, and got a record deal and played all over the Northwest for the first few years. Then we sort of got discovered and put a record out on a little label (Inner City Records). At that time, fusion jazz was very popular, but then things changed. I went through a 10-year period where I was just basically a session musician here in L.A., playing on a lot of mostly R&B and dance music records.

When we come together, we try to find something that works for the three of us. With the way they write, the music kind of goes through some really different places than my music does.

Jeff Lorber

“But a few years ago, I just decided to get back to that Jeff Lorber Fusion concept, which is a band concept, an ensemble concept. We played a lot of our earlier songs and wrote new songs in that style of funky jazz. Everette, Chuck and Paul … those guys all have very strong musical personalities, so it’s just a different dynamic when we collaborate. When we come together, we try to find something that works for the three of us. With the way they write, the music kind of goes through some really different places than my music does.”

Rounded out by drummer Lionel Cordew (moonlighting from percussion duties in Spyro Gyra) and bassist Ron Jenkins, Jazz Funk Soul is the featured act as for this weekend’s 10th anniversary concert of the Lexus Smooth Jazz Fest. Lorber said such events, along with radio exposure, have become increasingly sparse for contemporary jazz artists in recent years.

“That’s one reason why touring internationally is so great,” Lorber said. “In some of these places we go, there’s a younger audience that is just learning about this kind of music. All over Europe, for example, there are jazz clubs in pretty much every major capitol. So there is sort of a built-in audience for jazz. That’s been pretty solid for a long time. In the United States, unfortunately, jazz has become more of a niche thing. There is an interest from the millennials and the younger generation thanks to groups like Snarky Puppy. But it has been a challenge.

“At one point, this so-called smooth jazz radio format was a way to really get the word out on instrumental music. There are still those stations, to a degree. But there are not nearly as many as there used to be, so it’s more difficult to get exposure. That’s kind of what we’re dealing with right now.”

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