Lorber ready to make an ‘Impact’ at Youngstown Jazz & Wine
As a bandleader, session player and performer, Jeff Lorber has focused on composing music and then doing what’s right for the song in the studio and in concert.
In a career that’s spanned four decades, he has released 28 albums as a solo artist, as a member of jazz super group Jazz Funk Soul and with Jeff Lorber Fusion. His playing, longevity and continued relevance have made the keyboardist a legend in the jazz world.
Earlier this year, the Berklee College of Music graduate won a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for “Prototype,” which featured his mix of R&B, funk, pop and jazz improvisation.
Its follow-up, “Impact,” out on Aug. 17, aims to refine that successful stylistic approach. He plans on giving the local audience a preview of that release when Jeff Lorber Fusion plays Saturday at the Youngstown Wine & Jazz.
Lorber took the time to answer a few email questions about his songwriting, the new album, what he’s learned over the years that’s helped him and his thoughts on the smooth jazz genre.
TICKET: In what ways has your songwriting process changed, if at all, over the years?
Lorber: I have a lot of fun writing. I’m always listening to new and old music and trying to find things that really excite me that could spur a new composition. Usually it’s rhythmic, some kind of exciting beat or a combination of a beat and a bass line or chord progression. It could be anything, really.
I was just listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” the other day and was marveling at the intro to that song. It has such an amazing atmosphere. It’s something that grabs the listener right away, even though most of the song has a very different vibe than the intro.
TICKET: Do you present challenges to yourself or focus on particular elements when writing?
Lorber: I always like reading about how other musicians work and, sometimes, I’ll run across something that works for somebody else that I’ll try. Basically, I just try to be in the “zone” all the time so that if a good idea appears I’m ready to recognize (it) and, hopefully, turn it into something cool musically. Playing a different instrument like a guitar can really work.
TICKET: Have you hit a point in your career where you realize a melody you’ve just written is actually something you’ve done in the past?
Lorber: My melodies are sometimes improvised or, sometimes, I hear something before I start the music that becomes an interesting theme. I always “proofread” what I come up with to make sure that it sounds fresh and compelling and, hopefully, doesn’t sound too much like anything that people have heard before.
TICKET: While what you created on “Prototype” proved successful — critically and with a Grammy win — did you approach “Impact” differently?
Lorber: “Prototype” actually started when (bassist) Nathan East asked me to write some radio-friendly tracks for his album, which eventually he didn’t use (those tunes, “Hyperdrive” and “Test Drive,” instead appeared on “Prototype”). So that provided the direction for the “Prototype” album. We just used that, which we thought sounded great, and ran with it. On this record we picked up where we left off and tried to make even more focused, funky tracks.
TICKET: Are you playing any material from “Impact” during your current concert dates?
Lorber: Today, I’m working on charts so I can do just that. ALL of them, I hope!
TICKET: In a previous interview you said, “…in my group, I like to be equals and have a lot of talented people around me and then feature them.” Listening to “Prototype,” I notice your keyboards are melodic support and you do have solos but the songs feature a lot of saxophone and guitar work. Elaborate on this approach.
Lorber: It makes a much more fun, entertaining and interesting record or show when the listener gets to hear lots of great playing from all the guys instead of just one.
TICKET: With labels such as Cameo-Parkway and Philadelphia International based near your hometown of Chiltenham, Pa., is it a matter that R&B and funk seeped into your musical DNA?
Lorber: I’m sure! I think a lot of great musicians have come out of Philly, but there are many other cities that have a wonderful musical heritage, too. Today we live more in a “global village,” where we are all listening to the same music to some degree no matter where we live.
TICKET: Tell me why you posted the Cowboy’s Rules for Bandmembers on “Prototype” (which include such directives as “be alert” and “be on time”).
Lorber: Those cowboy’s rules are hilarious and I like them because they emphasize that you’re there to do a job, take it seriously and keep it simple.
TICKET: Of those who inspired you, what remains with you today? Any sage piece of advice that’s stuck with you?
Lorber: I love music and my tastes are very wide. I like R&B, straight ahead jazz, classic rock and I’m constantly listening to old and new music. Two keyboard players in particular, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, probably had the biggest influence on me, and the stuff I like the best is their output from the ’70s and ’80s.
Not sure about sage advice, but I try to use space in my music, and I work at what I do pretty steadily, which I think gives good results.
TICKET: From your days as a session musician, what remained with you to do and what not do for a positive recording session and band interaction?
TICKET: I learned so much from being a session musician, and it was really fun to be very objective and come into a situation as a musical problem solver. I definitely use some of those same skills with my own music and try to keep that sense of objectivity and analysis in effect.
TICKET: I read that you go to Spotify to check out new music. What artists in the past five, 10 years excite you?
Lorber: It’s hard to think of individuals. However, Max Martin and Pharrell Williams are two guys who have consistently been involved with quality songs and productions. I like Greg Kurstin, Ryan Tedder and Paul Epworth also.
TICKET: I interviewed former Jeff Lorber Fusion saxophonist Kenny Gorelick (better known as multi-platinum musician Kenny G) and discussed the “smooth jazz” label. Terms like that and “jazz fusion” seem to be terms that cause jazz purists to have fits. What are your thoughts?
Lorber: Smooth jazz is a radio format and not a musical genre, to me, although many people think it is. As a radio format, it’s been amazing in that it’s given exposure to instrumental music, which I greatly appreciate. As a description of music, it may give the impression of watered-down, uninteresting jazz.