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Jeff Lorber: He Had a Hat

Pianist Jeff Lorber’s oddly titled new CD-named after a knee-slapping Borscht Belt joke-maybe should be taken as a clue that the music within departs sharply from the easy grace of 2005’s Flipside and the funk-fest of 2003’s Philly Style. Lorber obviously wants to shake things up a bit, which seems appropriate as He Had a Hat is the first Narada Jazz CD to be released in affiliation with the legendary Blue Note label. There’s plenty for smooth-jazz fans to sink their teeth into, as Lorber extends himself on numerous solos that capture the grace and dexterity of his live performances.

But after the familiar smooth-jazz feel of the opener, “Anthem for a New America,” the remaining 12 tracks detour sharply into the mainstream-jazz realm. But Lorber has always had too much meat on his chops to be a lightweight smooth-jazz performer on his records anyway, and here he offers jazz that swings, bops and rocks and is never too studied to be enjoyed. The CD is under the capable control of producer Bobby Colomby, a drummer who as an original member of Blood, Sweat & Tears brings that band’s brassy, horn-based aesthetic to much of the CD. In fact, the four-man BS&T horn section is credited on five songs.

A couple of tunes stand out. “Surreptitious” veers into many musical directions with its double-time beat, Alex Al’s snaking bass lines and Randy Brecker’s trumpet, not to mention a speedy solo by Lorber. “Orchid,” which features Chris Botti’s trumpet, is the opposite, a slowed-down mellow jam. “BC Bop,” with its blaring horns and energetic solos by Lorber, just swings, baby. “Super Fusion Unit” offers Axel Al’s very cool bass which doesn’t really match Lorber’s playing, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it sounds just fine.

Also contributing are vocalists Eric Benet and Paula Cole, saxophonists Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, Bob Sheppard and Tom Scott, flutist Hubert Laws, and guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Russell Malone.

Originally Published