It was a good career move for Jeff Lorber to revive the Fusion brand name in 2010 after having ditched it nearly three decades earlier. Whether or not the keyboardist was ever a major player in the actual jazz-rock movement (his loosely organized outfit did, after all, include a young Kenny G, so you be the judge), Lorber’s earliest recordings from 1977-81, made under the “fusion” rubric, were his toughest and most complex. His subsequent solo career as a smooth-jazzer may have bought him a higher profile and greater success, but with that subgenre’s light having dimmed considerably in recent years, Lorber was wise to return to his roots.
For Hacienda, Lorber reunites members of the basic team he’s used since reviving JLF: Former Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip plays and co-produces with Lorber, and saxophonist Eric Marienthal, guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Larry Koonse, and drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl are all onboard.
So, too, is Jean-Luc Ponty, whose presence virtually dominates “King Kong,” the third track and sole non-Lorber original. The showpiece of the violinist’s 1970 album King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa, it’s also the incontestable highlight here, freaky and funky and irrepressibly propulsive. Ed Mann, like Ponty a Zappa alum, complements Lorber’s intrepid keyboard work with marimba.
It’s a hard act to follow, though, and while it’s not exactly downhill from there, it is considerably less fierce. Lorber is a fine shaper of songs, and although tracks such as “Raptor,” the title track, the rhapsodic “Playa Del Falco” and the closing “Dragonfly” (a fine Weckl vehicle) all exhibit impeccable musicianship and deep grooves, none are that divergent from the more cautious approach of Lorber’s long-mid-period music. One would have hoped that he’d try something truly audacious as he settles into Fusion 2.0.