A well-crafted fusion-jazz soundtrack has long been a staple of the Hollywood cop show, capable of making non-events pregnant with purpose. Away from the screen, however, the form suffers from
over-familiarity and is a little too easy on the ear.
Pianist/composer Jeff Lorber has been crafting tight-as-tight themes and drive-by grooves since releasing his first album The Jeff Lorber Fusion in 1977. And this gig featured a succession of polished compositions with rhythms honed smooth by a string of one-nighters – the band are in the third week of a world tour. Add in fiery solos, a great group sound and virtuosity by the bucketload, and what might otherwise have been a tired formula received a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.
The single set kicked off with a riff, a harmony and a churning beat. It was no-nonsense, rhythmically tricky stuff, with Lorber doubling on keyboard and grand and Eric Marienthal on soprano sax. Tension grew, the backbeat tightened, and then an organ swell – alas a synthesised sound – cued the relaxing counterpoint of a harmonically rich bridge. The composition, “Livewire”, was from Lorber’s new album Galaxy, but could easily have been a back-catalogue favourite.
Later themes were equally hooky and rhythmically acute. The bustling bass and sharp stabs of “Montserrat” are freshly composed, and you could sing “Rain Dance” in the bath. Written in 1979, it was sampled, we were told, nearly 20 years later by Notorious B.I.G. and Lil’ Kim. There was a miasma of chords, a nagging bass motif and fistfuls of interlocking lines.
But the magic ingredients were the sound and commitment of the band. The focal point was Marienthal and his rhythm-conscious lines, blues-laden slurs and heated alto sax climaxes that stirred the soul. Lorber’s solos are strewn with notes, each one perfectly placed. But his real strength is rhythm and the grasp of texture that maximised the efficacy of his superb rhythm team.
Bassist Nate Phillips could rock a house, while drummer Sonny Emory took showboating to a new and highly musical level. Midway through a beautifully structured solo, built from filigree hi-hat to full-kit roar, his sticks twirled like Catherine wheels and he never dropped a beat.