Jeff Lorber made a very honest statement when, in 1998, he told the Houston Chronicle that the mid-'80s found him featuring R&B vocalists so prominently that he had become, in effect, "a sideman on my own records." Lorber wasn't saying that he would never feature vocalists again, but he obviously realized that his own musicianship and his own personality needed to take center stage instead of being merely a side dish -- and thankfully, Lorber the jazz instrumentalist made an exciting comeback in the '90s and continued to generate excitement in the 21st century. 2010's Now Is the Time, in fact, is credited to the Jeff Lorber Fusion -- which is appropriate because parts of this album find him revisiting fusion and crossover jazz pieces he originally recorded in the late '70s and early '80s. Now Is the Time isn't totally instrumental; four of the 11 tracks feature singer Irene B ("Water Sign," "Rain Dance/Wanna Fly," "Sugar Free," and "Curtains/Before We Go"), and she favors an enjoyably jazzy R&B vocal style along the lines of Erykah Badu and N'Dea Davenport. So what is the difference between the way Lorber features Irene on Now Is the Time and the way he featured, for example, Karyn White and Michael Jeffries on 1986's Private Passion? It's a matter of presentation. Irene is clearly a guest vocalist on a mostly instrumental album that is jazz-oriented even though it isn't jazz-exclusive, and Lorber (who produced this 47-minute CD with Bobby Colomby and Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip) never sounds like a sideman on his own album. Lorber is in the driver's seat; he has plenty of room to stretch out as a keyboardist, and there is also plenty of solo space for alto/soprano saxophonist Eric Marienthal. Now Is the Time is hardly the work of a jazz purist or a bop snob, but it certainly has a jazz improviser's mentality, and Lorber sees to it that his 2010 versions of Jeff Lorber Fusion gems like "Black Ice" and "Chinese Medicinal Herbs" are not carbon copies of the original versions. That sprit of improvisation prevails not only on the Jeff Lorber Fusion-era material he revisits, but also, on an appealing arrangement of Wayne Shorter's Weather Report-associated "Mysterious Traveler." Now Is the Time is a fine album that will easily appeal to those who appreciate the spontaneity of early efforts like Water Sign and Soft Space.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson