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Jeff Lorber Fusion jazzes up Art Porter benefit

by Helaine Williams | July 31, 2022 at 2:45 a.m.
Jeff Lorber

We last saw Jeff Lorber in 2014 at A Work of Art — the weeklong fundraiser for Art Porter Music Education — as one of a trio of featured performers, Everette Harp and Paul Jackson Jr. being the other two.

Now he returns with his group, Jeff Lorber Fusion, for A Work of Art's Saturday main concert in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center.

The Philadelphia-born keyboardist, composer, producer and Grammy winner brings with him a resume that began with this band, which made its debut album in 1977. Other Fusion albums followed — along with Lorber's solo projects, beginning with 1982's "It's a Fact."

Along the way, Lorber, and his band, have delighted audiences with such classic, classy offerings as "Tune 88," a chill-out number with light, skittering percussion. "Rain Dance," a regal and meandering, horn-enriched composition. "Wizard Island," one of the best showcases of Lorber's skills. His instrumental version of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody." "Down Low," an organ-enriched head-swayer. "Chinese Medicinal Herbs," a brisk, upbeat number that pays tribute to traditional jazz while delivering an audio version of the healing powers of the title.

In a 1993 Democrat-Gazette story about his appearance in Little Rock that year, Lorber is described as "one of the early names linked to the 'fusion' movement that combined elements of rock or pop with jazz." He's generally considered a conveyor of the genre known as smooth jazz. But Lorber — who, on his website, names Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea as major influencers — prefers the term "contemporary jazz."

"Smooth Jazz is a radio format more than a musical description," he says. "But what we do is melodic, funky and takes a lot from more traditional 'straight ahead jazz' when it comes to improvisation and harmony. I'm a big fan of the blues, and that's definitely part of it."


Memories of his close friendship with the late Art Porter Jr. have led Lorber to once again headline A Work of Art.

"I was lucky enough to produce tracks on three different records with him, two of them entirely, and I was really impressed with his talent both as a sax virtuoso and composer," Lorber reminisces. "He was a lovely guy, too."

In fact, Lorber was in Thailand with Porter the day before the accident that took his life.

"I'm really glad that I was asked to be involved in this concert, and I'd be glad to do anything to keep Art's memory and music alive."

During his more than four-decade career, Lorber has tried to stay true to his main musical goal.

"I try to make it funky and fun to listen to for both serious jazz fans and also people that are not," he says. "However, over the years so much has changed."

His group got its start playing the club scene in Portland, Ore. "Since I moved to Los Angeles in 1980 I've been lucky enough to become a successful studio musician and producer, so I've learned a lot. The musicians I play with now are world-class professionals, including the group I'm bringing to Little Rock." And of course, his writing and production have reflected the drastic changes in recording technology and musical styles over the years.

"The whole world has changed since then so many ways, but one thing I like to keep the same is to play fun, entertaining music that people can tap their foot to."

There's an extensive list of noted artists Lorber has collaborated with or served as producer, including Gerald Albright, Herb Alpert, Eric Benet, Rick Braun, Michael Franks, Dave Koz and Kenny G, introduced via the Fusion's 1980 album "Wizard Island."

[RELATED: Art Porter Music Education benefit concerts set for this week]


Lorber's favorite fellow musicians to work with include jazz trumpeter Alpert. They have collaborated off and on over the last two decades.

"As a 10-year-old kid, I was a fan of his song 'The Lonely Bull' — the first record I ever bought — and I'm really inspired to be working with this guy that's 86 years old and still has so much enthusiasm for life and music," Lorber says.

Koz and Franks, along with Tower of Power, are also among his favorites.

What is the composition Lorber is best known for, that he gets the most requests to play?

"My song 'Tune 88' is kind of a jazz standard," he replies, naming "Katherine," a dreamy ear smoothie, and "PCH (Pacific Coast Highway)" — a perfect number to play in one's car while cruising the iconic California State Route 1 — as two other popular creations he's penned. "Also, my composition 'Rain Dance' has become kind of a hip-hop anthem" sampled by the likes of Jay-Z, Mariah Carey and the late Notorious B.I.G.

Lorber's work also has been background music on The Weather Channel; his composition "Santa Monica Triangle," from the 2005 album "Flipside," shows up on "The Weather Channel Presents: The Best of Smooth Jazz" and "The Weather Channel Presents: Smooth Jazz II."

This was a relationship, Lorber says, that he didn't initiate. "I guess they liked my music and started playing it," he says.


Lorber is a longtime Grammy nominee, but the award eluded him until his seventh nomination. The Jeff Lorber Fusion album "Prototype" won the 2018 Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category.

"It was quite a thrill. It was unexpected," Lorber recalls. "Of course it's great to be recognized by your peers. But having a life in music, doing something that I enjoy so much, is really its own reward."

Lorber is looking forward to his band's including some Art Porter Jr. tunes in their set on Saturday. Other than that, they will deliver favorites from material old and new. Fans of The Weather Channel, and buyers of the channel's aforementioned jazz album, will be treated to "Rain Dance," he reveals.

"I'm really looking forward to returning to Little Rock and seeing some of my friends there."


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