Jeff Lorber

Zebra Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I'm going to say two words that could evoke one of three reactions with you: Smooth jazz.

Chances are, you fell into one of these groups: those who can't stand this type of music; those who think it's okay in small doses, and those who are more or less indifferent to it.

I consider myself to be in the middle category; there are some artists whose work would fall into this category that I enjoy, while there are others whose work I wouldn't mind avoiding for the rest of my life. But I've developed enough of a palate to learn an appreciation for a form of music that has - often unjustly - been vilified.

Jeff Lorber is a musician who has only cracked the top 40 once in his long career, yet he has a name that always seems to ring a bell with music lovers. His keyboard work is strong yet peaceful, as his latest release Midnight shows - but this is an album that is best listened to when broken up over several sessions. (In a way, that's not a recommendation you want to make for an album that clocks in at just under 45 minutes.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There is no doubt that Lorber is excellent behind the keys, allowing his flowing lines to often blend in with what the rest of the band (made up of a sizeable group of excellent musicians, whose work I know best as session players). Instead of turning the keyboards into the lead instrument, more often than not, Lorber makes the whole band the focal point, as on "Watching The Sun Set".

And there are times that Lorber takes chances, such as his take on The Beatles's classic "Dear Prudence". It's interesting to hear a jazz-rock version of this song, especially with fragmented lyrics (vocals provided by Robin Dixon), and though it may be sacrilege to the diehard fans of the Fab Four, it is a refreshing spin on a track from a rather dark album.

If only the experiments with vocals were all like this. The other two vocal tracks (provided by Chelsea) don't always have the same kind of staying power, and end up seeming like breaks between the instrumentation of Midnight. "Never" is the best track out of the vocalized bunch, but "I Ain't Thinkin' About You" is not up to the level one would expect after Lorber started the album off strongly with three powerful instrumentals. (By the way, I'm not putting full blame on Chelsea's vocals; the songs themselves aren't structured as well as their comrades, so it's a disappointing effort all around on these.)

Ironically, there are times where vocalization might have been welcomed; as good as Lorber and the other musicians are, by the time that "Perugia" and "Feelin' It" kick in, the listener is ready for a break. (Yes, I know these songs are preceded by "Never" - a vocal track.) While Lorber and crew do a decent job, at times it feels like Midnight is an album that is mentally taxing, especially for a listener who might not be familiar with this style of music. It's one thing to challenge the listener; it's another thing altogether to tire them out before the last note can be played.

Midnight is still a good album with plenty of material to recommend it to anyone who enjoys this style of music. If you're just getting your feet wet regarding smooth jazz, this one isn't the worst place you could start, but it might not be enough to make you want to discover more music in this vein.

Rating: B-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zebra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.