More than just a jazz guitarist, Chuck Loeb has proven himself to be a versatile composer, arranger and producer in a wide range of musical styles and contexts. In addition to fronting several of his own bands and projects, and compiling an impressive discography stretching back to the late 1980s, Loeb has also worked the other side of the mixing board to produce a number of high-profile artists, including Spyro Gyra, Bob James, Walter Beasley, Larry Coryell and Kim Waters. He’s also composed the score for numerous television programs (CNN, ABC News Nightline, CBS Up to the Minute) and has crafted the theme music for the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves, and performed on several motion picture soundtracks (Turner and Hootch, The Untouchables, Mixed Nuts). Indeed, there are few stones on the musical landscape that Chuck Loeb has left unturned.
This Renaissance man joins Heads Up International with the worldwide release of Presence (HUCD 3117), an album that recognizes the importance of the human element – not just in the crafting of music, but in everyday life. "Nowadays, there’s a lot of music that gets created in a laboratory," says Loeb, who enlisted musicians various incarnations of his live band to craft the album. "We all have computers, and we do things long distance. But it never ceases to amaze me how, as soon as you put the live musicians into the equation, it’s their presence that brings the thing to life. That’s the idea behind the album title – the effect that an individual’s personality has on the music, both in the context of a recording and in a live setting."
The set opens with the bouncy but easygoing "Good To Go." Co-written with saxophonist Andy Snitzer (who reappears later in the sequence in "Hangin’ With You"), the track is the product of an interesting creative odyssey wherein various components of the song changed hands over time – from Loeb to Snitzer to guitarist Paul Brown. "The song has sort of lived three lives," says Loeb. "It was this ongoing work in progress between three musicians, but it all kind of gelled at the very end. When it was finally good to go, I said, ‘Well, we might as well just call it that.’"
The followup is a laid back interpretation of Steely Dan’s 1974 classic, "Rikki Don’t Lose That Number," a track with a healthy dose of playful counterpoint between Loeb and saxophonist/flutist Dave Mann. "Steely Dan always brings an intelligence to their music," says Loeb, a longtime fan of the perennially smart-sounding pop/rock/jazz combo. "They try to sneak as much stuff as possible into a pop song without getting too heady and turning off the audience. That’s my goal as well."
Further into the set, Loeb takes a Latin turn with the help of his wife, Spanish-born vocalist/guitarist Carmen Cuesta-Loeb. The sultry "Llevame" was actually written more than two decades ago, when the husband-wife team played together in a band called Paralelo. "I’ve had experiences like this before where, even if the song is very old, I can’t get the melody out of my head," says Loeb. "I got the main chorus from ‘Llevame’ from all those years ago, and I wrote a new bridge for it, and had Carmen sing on it. We recorded the whole thing in about a day. It was a very spontaneous thing that we did together in our own studio at home. The lesson here is to never throw a good idea away."
The poignant title track, with it’s simple but compelling five-note guitar hook, was written for Carmen’s late father, Anastasio Cuesta, and serves as a fitting centerpiece to an album that recognizes the significance of the human element above all else. "We lost him about a year and a half ago, right before I started producing this CD," says Loeb. "I was actually in the room with him when he died. When it was over, the thing that we missed the most was his presence. There was something completely different about seeing his body without his spirit. So I dedicated this song to him. He was an important person for all of us."
"Mr. Martino," a tribute to legendary guitarist Pat Martino, is built on an insistent groove set up by Loeb, pianist/organist Matt King, bassist Brian Killeen and drummer Josh Dion. "I’ve been a big fan of Pat’s music since I was 16 years old, and last year I had two opportunities to work with him for the first time," says Loeb. "So I finally got to know Pat personally after being a fan for all these years. I had dedicated songs in the past to George Benson, Wes Montgomery and other guitar players, but Pat needed to have his song too."
The closer is a cover of James Taylor’s "Shed a Little Light," a midtempo, upbeat track crafted with the help of members of an older version of Loeb’s band – keyboardist Mike Ricchiuti, bassist Ron Jenkins and drummer Brian Dunne. "I just love the title and the lyrics and the spirit of this song," say Loeb. "These guys played with me for about eight or ten years, and they’re very close to my heart. I’m very glad to have them on a CD that represents a new chapter in my life."
Whether he’s borrowing songs from some of his favorite artists, co-writing with his soulmate or other trusted collaborators, or crafting his own music from a seemingly bottomless creative well, Chuck Loeb operates from a place that’s always in the groove and always in the moment. There’s rarely any question of his presence; he’s always where he needs to be.