Herb Alpert was there, playing a pivotal role, when fusion begat smooth-jazz. And, it seems, he’s never left. From the opening “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to the reworking of “The Lonely Bull,” Alpert’s career-igniting 1962 hit with the Tijuana Brass, Steppin’ Out feels stuck in an early ’80s groove. Fittingly, Jeff Lorber has been invited along.
Still, as retrofitted smooth projects go, this is generally grade-A stuff. Closing in on his 80th birthday, trumpeter Alpert remains a master of polish, still blowing sweet, strong and clear. Four of the 16 tracks are new, co-written by Alpert and Lorber, all pert and peppy. The covers are more wide-ranging, extending from a moody meander through Art Pepper’s “Our Song,” featuring lovely interplay between Alpert and pianist Bill Cantos, and a lazy “La Vie en Rose” that seems plucked from a Woody Allen soundtrack, to a loose, easy “And the Angels Sing.” Mexican violinist Rubén Fuentes Gassón’s “Good Morning Mister Sunshine” (eerily similar to “It Might as Well Be Spring”) is nicely percolated, though it pales in comparison to the TJB version included on 1969’s The Brass Are Comin’.
Sadly, Alpert’s biggest asset, his vocalist wife Lani Hall (of Brasil ’66 fame), is vastly underutilized. She drops in for two lines on an ethereal “I Only Have Eyes for You,” makes an equally brief (and fragile) appearance on “What’ll I Do” and, in her sole opportunity to stretch out, is hemmed within a limpid “It’s All in the Game.”