So far we've seen smooth jazz artists take a variety of approaches with their newest recordings. Spyro Gyra went the world music route, George Benson went back to his early Warner Brothers days, Michael Franks become much more personal, Richard Elliot gravitated towards soul jazz and Jeff Kashiwa, who didn't chart anyway, has stayed the course playing the pop oriented music he's always loved. Up next, looking for post-smooth jazz relavance, is guitarist Chuck Loeb.
Loeb, a powerhouse producer of countless smooth jazz radio hits, and who recently joined Fourplay, comes out with a trio recording ala Bobby Broom. The difference between Broom and Loeb, on this recording, is that Broom stays mostly right down the middle with his straight-ahead jazz bent. Loeb has instead chosen to focus on playing a number of groove oriented pieces but with heavy improvisational elements such as Larry Carlton has given us in the last five to seven years.
Enlisting Fourplay bandmate and drummer Harvey Mason, as well as organist Pat Bianchi, Loeb's newest recording is a mixed bag. While this traditional guitar trio format might make one think of a blues oriented recording, nothing could be further from the truth. Playing mostly in your face rocking or grooving, with mostly original compositions, Loeb works to let it fly in the manner of a guitar deity. Taking every chance to let his chops rip, including the ballad "Plain 'n' Simple," Loeb's ample technique is on display first and foremost throughout the 12 tracks.
You're not going to find any smooth jazz on this disc. In totally changing the style of this recording, in relation to his last decade of work as a leader, Loeb clearly leaves smooth jazz behind and appears to be aiming his playing at readers of guitar magazines.
The question is, of course, does it work. The answer is yes and no. "Organeleptic" is an uptempo throw-down that takes no prisoners where hot ensemble licks are balanced by death-defying solos from both Loeb and Bianchi. That is balanced by tracks like "Red Suede Shoes," a groove tune that meanders more than dances.
The real strength of this recording lies in hearing Mason, who has been wasted on so many of his recordings as a sidemusician, play his frickin' heart out. He is amazing. Subtle when he needs to be, in support when required, or driving the ensemble like it's a Ferrari when his bandmates get too settled, Mason stuns and pleases in equal measure.
In the end it will take more than one outing for Loeb to find his path in this new jazz landscape, but if anyone has the possibility of making it happen Loeb would be the one to bet on.