Keyboardist/composer/producer Jeff Lorber, heralded as "one of the founding fathers of fusion" (Keyboard), returns with his GRAMMY®-nominated power trio the Jeff Lorber Fusion, featuring bassist/co-producer Jimmy Haslip and saxophonist Eric Marienthal. Since the late 1970s, this contemporary jazz collective has blended elements of jazz, funk, rock, R&B and world music into a distinctive sound that has connected with audiences from a variety of continents, cultures and generations. In more recent years, the group's studio efforts such as their 2010 release, Now Is the Time (2010) and Galaxy (2012), influenced by extensive touring throughout Europe and Asia, have been colored with vibrant shades of dance and house music.
These same colors are at the forefront of Hacienda, the new album from the Jeff Lorber Fusion scheduled for release August 27, 2013 on Heads Up, a division of Concord Music Group. Co-produced by Lorber and Haslip, Hacienda spotlights eleven tracks, including a brilliant take on the Frank Zappa composition "King Kong," with Jean-Luc Ponty on violin. Other guests include Larry Koonse, Paul Jackson, Jr., Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Lenny Castro, David Mann, and more.
The album title - the Spanish word for house - is partly inspired by the club in Manchester, England, with the same name that fostered an exciting dance music scene that eventually came to be known as house music. Lorber, who explored the style earlier in his career, revisits it in various places on Hacienda.
"Eric and Jimmy and I had done a lot of touring in 2011 and 2012," says Lorber. "By the time we were back in the States in the fall of 2012, and we realized that Vinnie Colaiuta was available, the whole thing came together very spontaneously. Hacienda takes what we started on some of our previous records and puts it into a tighter focus. It also reflects the excitement of doing a lot of touring and discovering what really worked - funky rhythms, unusual chord changes - for international audiences that really understood where we were coming from."
The offbeat and funky are immediately evident in "Corinaldo," the complex opening track that consists of multiple sections. "It's not simple at all," says Lorber. "It's unusual, and it goes to some unlikely places - which is what helps the track maintain a level of excitement. Eric, who is known primarily as an alto sax player, takes a tenor solo on that song that is just incredible."
"Solar Wind" features an L.A.-based guitarist named Larry Koonse, who "kind of takes it outside a little bit, but in a way that the average listener can still enjoy," says Lorber. Koonse reappears several tracks later in the midtempo "Playa Del Falco," a melodic ballad in 6/8 which Haslip describes as "very modal, very polyrhythmic, with a little bit of a Latin vibe."
Lorber and company's intriguing rendition of Frank Zappa's "King Kong" - featuring Jean-Luc Ponty and Ed Mann on marimba - is the only cover on the record. "It's a song I've always loved," says Lorber. "What you hear on the record is actually just a really quick arrangement that I put together, but a lot of stuff happened spontaneously in the studio that became part of the arrangement. It was almost an accident, but it came out great, and it became one of my favorite songs on the record when Jean-Luc Ponty, who also used to work with Frank Zappa, and Ed Mann, who was a member of the Mothers of Invention, both agreed to play on it."
Unlike the uptempo tracks at the front end of the album, "The Steppe" settles into a quieter groove that focuses more on melody than intensity, with the help of a fine sax solo from Marienthal that rounds out the track. "That was Eric's first take," says Lorber. "He's the kind of guy who likes to play things over and over again until they're perfect, but I told him, ‘Man, that first take, that was it. Don't waste your time playing any more solos.' He insisted on recording it several more times, but eventually we went back to the first take."
The swing-flavored "Raptor" was one of the first tunes that Lorber played for Haslip and Marienthal when the idea for the album was just beginning to take shape. "It was just a loose jam at the time," says Haslip, "but I thought, ‘Wow, what a cool tune.' I knew it was an indication of what was to come, because I could see that Jeff was on a roll. He was inspired, and I could see that he was writing a lot of material."
The set closes with "Dragonfly," a track written by Haslip that features guest drummer Dave Weckl. "We knew we wanted to do something kind of special with this track, so we got Dave," says Lorber. "He played an incredible drum part on that song. Also, Dave Mann, who does a lot of the horn parts and horn arranging for this record, stepped up on this track and delivered a really interesting bass clarinet solo."
In the end, Hacienda is the culmination of several years' worth of exploration in the studio along with several thousand miles worth of self discovery in live performances around the globe. At the end of that journey, Jeff Lorber Fusion is exactly where it should be - in the house, and deep in the groove.
"Hacienda is a bit more focused than some of our previous projects," says Lorber. "The writing is more original, the playing is better, the overall vibe is more exciting. And we had a blast bringing it all together. In the end, that's what it's all about. If you want people to enjoy the music, you have to put the good vibes in when you make it so people can get the good vibes out when they hear it."