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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jeff Lorber: Fusioning-up a Smooth Storm

I pick on Jeff Lorber, the smooth jazz keyboard star, because I think he's a very good musician.  The cat can play, and he writes engaging fusion melodies, and there is something rich and interesting in most of his solos.

Jeff Lorber, back when he looked like Kenny G
But I still don't like his records.

Two years ago I wrote a pair of Jazz Today columns about the slow death of the smooth jazz format in radio.  Both DC and NY had just seen their smooth jazz station fade into soprano saxophone nothingness.  Good riddance, I wrote.  In the second column, I examined the latest Jeff Lorber disc in some detail to explain how this particular music platform could take a talented guy and lead him to Sominex horror.

Now, Mr. Lorber has a new disc, Now Is The Time, where he re-examines many of his early tunes, and I started off thinking that it was a the better recording.  But by the end of the review, I was just exasperated as two years ago.  Must he cover a Weather Report tune by Wayne Shorter, a really terrific piece of music, and flatten it with aimless noodling?  Apparently he must.  "Mysterious Traveler," you have been wounded.

My angry reaction to this kind of music stems, I think, from my passion for jazz generally.  This masquerading instrumental R&B, this sonic wallpaper, this smoooooved-out digitized soulless pacifier music is almost jazz in a bunch of ways—with its saxophones and its improvisations and its similarities to the jazz-rock fusion of the 1970s.  It fakes people into thinking they're digging the rich, real thing.  But they're not.  Sure, some people start on 'smooth jazz' like it was  a tricycle and graduate up to JAZZ, but way more folks just drift along bobbing their heads to the fake stuff.

It would probably be good for me to swear off of reviewing this stuff.  Maybe a new year's resolution for 2011.  No more shooting fish in a barrel.

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