Jeff Lorber has always been known for stretching out and taking on new directions and dimensions. He pushes the limits and gives his listeners something to chew on or think about through his music. This time is no exception. With producer Bobby Colomby, who has produced Chris Botti’s last two CDs, Jeff is giving us yet another view of his creativity. His latest CD, He Had a Hat, is a wonderful mix of old-time jazz, blues and vocals. From my first listen, I felt like this CD was from another era. Jeff works seamlessly with such artists as Brian Bromberg, Chris Botti, Eric Benet, Randy Brecker, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Lenny Castro, Tom Scott, Dave Weckl, and the Blood, Sweat and Tears horn section to offer thirteen tracks.
The opening track, “Anthem for a New America,” has Jeff alongside the Krim Symphonic Orchestra, but allowing his piano to lead the way. This truly does feel like an anthem, setting the mood for better things to come. Up next is the title track, featuring Jeff on keyboards. This is a mid-tempo tune and gives Kirk Whalum a chance to solo on the tenor sax while offering that jazz club feel. The only cover on this album is the Bill Withers tune “Grandma’s Hands,” which has Eric Benet on vocals and Tom Scott and Gerald Albright in the horn section. This is a terrific arrangement of this classic and Eric does a great job on the front line.
“Surreptitious” is an upbeat track featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet, who gives a powerful solo. He combines with Jeff’s piano and the sax of Ada Rovatti to produce that old time jazz combo sound. Backed by the Blood, Sweat and Tears horn section and the drumming prowess of Dave Weckl, it takes you on a journey. “All Most Blues” reminds me of the smoky jazz/blues clubs of New York. With Tom Scott on alto sax, Brian Bromberg on bass, and the Lair Studio Brass Ensemble providing offering more horns, this is as traditional as it gets. Chris Botti co-wrote and performs with Jeff on “Orchid,” which also fits into the old-time theme of this album.
“BC Bop” again features the incredible piano playing of Jeff, supported by the Blood, Sweat and Tears Horn section. This goes even further to give you the big band coolness. An unbelievable throwback to a time gone by. “The Other Side of the Heart” is the other vocal on this CD. This duet of Paula Cole and Eric Benet, flanked by Jeff’s precision playing, fits in perfectly with the overall feel of this album. “Hudson” and “Eye Tunes” (love that title) are both upbeat tunes, showcasing Hubert Laws on flute. The flute, which is becoming more and more popular in jazz music, adds a terrific element. Dave Weckl is the star on “Super Fusion Unit.” While the piano is definitely in the forefront with a catchy melody, the drums providing a driving beat for the piano to keep pace with.
Rounding out the CD are “Requiem for Gandalf,” a very serene piano tune to close your eyes and reflect on, and “Burn Brightly,” a funky, fun track that pairs a guitar with Jeff’s piano, and backed by the Blood, Sweat and Tears horn section. The guitar and piano solos mid-song are lively and enticing.
This CD offers a new experience. The songs are creative and expressive, while giving an overall theme of jazz from long ago. While I was taken a bit by surprise at the sound of this album, it was a welcome change from Jeff and one that is thoroughly enjoyable.
- Bonnie Schendell