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January/February 2008

Neil Larsen
Orbit
Straight Ahead

Neil Larsen has street cred wrapped up. He’s recorded with bright lights like George Harrison, Rickie Lee Jones, Gregg Allman, Diana Krall and Kenny Loggins. His songs have been placed on more than 60 diverse albums, and the guy is also an arranger and pianist on the hit TV show Boston Legal. That Larsen is a music wonk who must create music or die is obvious. Which is why Orbit is such a great gift from a guy who’s still largely overlooked in jazz, maybe because he’s only released four solo albums while making everyone else sound so good. Orbit, although it does have a few new songs, re-introduces us to some of Larsen’s best solo work from the past. Helping take him there are guitarist Robben Ford, saxophonist Gary Meek, bassist Jimmy Haslip, drummer Tom Brechtlein and trumpeter Lee Thornburg. The title and lead track to Orbit speak to the CD’s duality. Although the saxophone and trumpet tandem leads into some fine organ work, Ford’s hard-rock fusion guitar eventually breaks the mood. In a good way. Orbit is slick yet raw, a musician’s record lifted from the 1970s. Larsen, however, does manage to rein in the musical toughness on a few tracks while showcase his keys, most notably with the low-key swing of “Midnight Pass.”

Originally published in January/February 2008
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