Even if Prototype, the title of Jeff Lorber Fusion’s latest release, is meant to be emblematic of contemporary jazz to come, don’t expect a series of jarring breaks with the past. Quite often the album’s appeal is derived from the vintage blues, bop, soul-jazz and R&B sounds that continue to inform keyboardist Lorber’s fusion perspective, albeit in vibrantly reconfigured fashion. When the bandleader and prolific composer leans into his ’72 Fender Rhodes on “The Badness,” or adroitly deploys saxophonist Andy Snitzer’s piercing alto on the album’s title track, or brings his Hammond B-3 to bear on the Tower of Power-esque romp “What’s the Deal,” Lorber sounds less interested in exploring new ground than in rekindling early passions without repeating himself.
Of course, that’s no small challenge for someone who’s been a highly influential force in fusion and smooth-jazz for four decades. Lorber’s gifts for composing and arranging remain undiminished, and much the same can be said for his ability to recruit musicians who colorfully complement his band, which now features Snitzer, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Gary Novak. The coupling of Haslip and Novak here is especially enjoyable, supple and polyrhythmic, while the numerous guests, including bassist Nathan East and guitarists Chuck Loeb, Larry Koonse, Michael Thompson and Paul Jackson Jr., leave their mark on performances shrewdly tailored to take full advantage of the impressive lineup. Not to be overlooked, saxophonist Dave Mann deserves kudos for fashioning seven horn arrangements that contribute to the album’s luster and vitality.