Quite an interesting pairing: keyboardist Jeff Lorber, who has performed and/or produced many contemporary jazz and smooth-jazz hits, and jazz/rock guitarist Mike Stern, whose background includes stints with Miles Davis, Billy Cobham, and the Brecker Brothers.
It was bassist Jimmy Haslip’s idea to bring the two together. A founding member of the Yellowjackets, Haslip played with Stern when he guested on the band’s 2008 album Lifecycle. These days, Haslip plays with Lorber’s band, the Jeff Lorber Fusion, and he says he felt the combination of Stern and Lorber would produce something new and different. His instincts proved correct. On Eleven—which Haslip co-produced with Lorber—they serve up a set ranging from radio-friendly tunes to blistering jams that could peel the paint off your living-room walls.
While some tracks, like the bright, cheery “Righteous,” would fit comfortably on the smooth-jazz airwaves, others are less glossily produced. Stern’s guitar floats ethereally over Lorber’s chiming keyboards on “Nu Som” (featuring Stern’s wife, guitarist Leni Stern, playing an African stringed instrument called an ngoni). Lorber displays impressive blues chops on “Jones Street,” and both artists demonstrate the power of subtlety on the ballad “Tell Me.”
Eleven’s title comes from the famous scene in This Is Spinal Tap where Nigel Tufnel shows off his amplifier that goes to 11, and fittingly the album features plenty of opportunities for Stern to unleash his fiery chops. He and Lorber both throw down on the freewheeling jazz-rocker “Ha Ha Hotel,” and Stern lets fly on the dark, sultry “Slow Change.”
It took several listens to appreciate this collaboration fully, but it’s worth taking the time. This is a pairing both artists should consider pursuing further.
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