JEFF LORBER Jazz artist brings 'sense of funkiness'

Jeff Lorber likes the vitality of hip-hop. 'It's kind of putting a really powerful motor in your car,' he says.
It's not every day that a musician with a high-charting album and single plays in Youngstown.
It will happen Saturday when keyboardist Jeff Lorber, a veteran of the smooth jazz scene, performs at Youngstown Playhouse. "Snakebite," the first single from Lorber's new CD "Kickin' It," is at No. 2 this week on Radio and Records' new adult contemporary chart -- ahead of songs by Sade, Eric Clapton, Luther Vandross and Rick Braun, among others. "Snakebite" topped that chart during the previous two weeks. The CD debuted at No. 9 on Billboard Magazine's contemporary jazz list upon its release in February.
"You spend a lot of time making these records. You put everything you have into it," said Lorber, who was reached in California. "It's always really great if you get sort of the vote of confidence from radio and the public that they like what you've done."
The folks who are casting those votes might be of a certain age. Lorber, 48, acknowledged that he has fans who have followed him ever since he led Jeff Lorber Fusion in the early 1980s. It's also true that smooth jazz radio stations are chasing "a little older demo," he said.
All ages: Still, "the music we play is more energetic" and touches people of all ages, Lorber said. He has two daughters who are in their mid-20s -- "and they definitely like this music," he added.
Asked if he's benefiting from listeners' disenchantment with other forms of music, Lorber answered rhetorically: "You mean people who aren't finding satisfaction in the latest batch of disposable pop music?"
Lorber's no enemy of pop music. He grew up listening to it, and it has shaped his own sound. Of today's scene, "There are good songs and production in there but probably not music that will have the staying power of jazz or The Beatles or really significant pop groups," he said.
His appreciation for jazz grew as he acquired records. It took only a few listens to hear everything that typical pop songs had to offer. Jazz records were more complex. "I felt I could listen to those jazz records over and over again and always hear new things," he said, noting "subtle interplay of the instruments," bass lines, song construction and improvisation between players.
Tradition: There is some disposable jazz, stuff that Lorber labels "kind of generic," whether it's of the straight-ahead or smooth jazz variety. If jazz seems to have more staying power, it's because "generally there's a real reverence for tradition," he said. "You can't just kind of come out of nowhere and be a jazz artist. You really have to study the history of the music" in order to interpret it.
In recording "Kickin' It," Lorber said, he paid "definite homage to early funky jazz keyboard players like Ramsey Lewis. ... I'm trying to bring back that sense of funkiness and freedom." Lorber also incorporates R & amp;B, rock and electric jazz elements in his music.
From funk to hip-hop: Lorber's love of funk music has opened his ears to hip-hop. "Basically it's a modern style of funk," he said. "The rhythmic concept has so much vitality and life to it. It's kind of putting a really powerful motor in your car."
Lorber's earliest influences were Earth, Wind & amp; Fire and Miles Davis. As for present-day artists, "I like that new Jill Scott record, and D'Angelo," he said. D'Angelo's first two recordings are "innovative and interesting. He took a lot of real soulful roots of R & amp;B and incorporated it with a creative approach to production and arrangement." Lorber also follows the work of producers such as Timbaland and Jam and Lewis to learn about their techniques.
Lorber will play for large crowds this summer at jazz festivals, but he's looking forward to the Playhouse show. "Sometimes it's fun to play the smaller ones because it's more intimate," he said.

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