One of the early progenitors of what would come to be known as smooth jazz, pianist Jeff Lorber originally made his name in the '70s and '80s with his electric jazz outfit Jeff Lorber Fusion. As the name implies, Jeff Lorber Fusion initially took inspiration from such genre-bending icons as Horace Silver, Chick Corea, and the '70s electrified sound of Miles Davis, albeit with an ear to pushing his fusion and funk-influenced sound in a much more mainstream direction. His fifth outing since reactivating the ensemble with 2010's Now Is the Time, 2017's Prototype is a slick -- if still soulful -- production that finds Lorber digging into a set of upbeat funk- and pop-inflected jams with just enough hardcore jazz flourishes to keep things from getting too predictable. Headlining Jeff Lorber Fusion this time out are longtime associate bassist Jimmy Haslip (who co-produced the album with Lorber) and in-demand studio saxophonist Andy Snitzer, whose abundant album credits have found him playing everything from jazz to gospel to emo-pop. Augmenting these sessions at various times are such recognizable stalwarts as drummer Gary Novak, guitarist Chuck Loeb, bassist Nathan East, and others. Also, as on several past Lorber dates, saxophonist David Mann supplies his tastefully punchy horn arrangements. Generally speaking, most of the tracks on Prototype have less in common with classic '70s fusion jazz and fall more easily into the contemporary crossover jazz idiom. Cuts like the leadoff "Hyperdrive," the R&B-infused "What's the Deal," and the EDM-inflected "Gucci" are sophisticated midtempo grooves built around Lorber's juicy organ, synth, and piano parts and accented by Snitzer's organic, emotive sax lines. That said, Lorber has always straddled the line between crafting mood-oriented jams and engaging, improvisation-friendly arrangements, and Prototype only works to reinforce that notion. Along those lines, "Vienna" and "Park West" bring to mind the edgy, bop-informed style of '80s Brecker Brothers. Similarly compelling are the bluesy, funky title track and the sultry "Hidden Agenda," both of which allow for subtle harmonic colorations and swinging improvisational asides. Ultimately on Prototype, Lorber doesn't attempt to break the smooth jazz mold so much as represent the best of breed. Thankfully, he remains one of the first and best at what he does.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar