Sunday 28 October 2012

The Return of Jazz Funk - Jeff Lorber Fusion at Ronnie Scott's

You might need to be over a certain age to understand the expression "jazz funk" and if you are you might have spent the late 1970's and early to mid 1980's in a variety of basement clubs or at "jazz funk all nighters" in places with names like "Mandy's", "Togo's" or the "Top Deck" dancing to tracks by artists such as Roy Ayers, George Duke, Patrice Rushen, Crown Heights Affair, Eddie Henderson and a whole lot more. Many of these artists were respected jazz musicians who produced a number of extremely danceable "crossover" tracks during that period, which for me at least, was one of the most creative times in the history of popular music.

Being much too old to go clubbing nowadays, but also being a huge fan of JazzFM, I have been very pleasantly surprised over the last couple of years to see my beloved jazz funk begin to re-assert itself, not just through the re-discovery of the classic tracks of the genre, but also by a whole slate of new recordings. This has been helped tremendously (and probably precipitated) by JazzFM running their Saturday night Funky Sensation sessions, upstairs at Ronnie Scotts and releasing a jaw dropping series of double-CD compilation albums of the same name. I bought Funky Sensation 3 today and am listening to it as I blog!

Tonight at Ronnie Scotts, a sell out audience was treated to one of the masters of jazz funk in the shape of Jeff Lorber Fusion. Mr. Lorber has never really been away but has released two killer albums in the last couple of years - Now Is The Time and Galaxy. Tonight, accompanied by long time musical collaborator Eric Marienthal on a variety of saxophones, Nate Phillips on guitar and Sonny Emory on drums, he took us through a number of more recent compositions including Montserrat and Surreptitious both of which were extremely well received by an enthusiastic (and slightly older than usual?) audience, whilst a long version of Chinese Medicinal Herbs from the Now Is The Time album received cheers and whoops as well as a BIG hand!

Jeff Lorber played some pretty technical pieces seemingly effortlessly, even commenting on one piece that he hadn't really wanted to do but that the band had talked him into. He said he was glad he had played it. So were we. His musical conversation with Eric Marienthal's saxophone was one of the highlights of the concert for me, but the prize for showmanship MUST go to Sonny Emory for a mesmerising drum solo that included some very fast and fancy manoeuvring of the sticks that would have surely won a medal in those rhythmic gymnastics Olympic competitions!

These are artists who clearly know each other very well, who are accomplished at taking the lead or supporting the rest of the band and each of the four were showcased throughout the too short performance. This was demonstrated very clearly for me on the show stopping Rain Dance - a real Jeff Lorber classic, first recorded in 1979 and then appearing again on the Now Is The Time album with a searing vocal from one Irene B. During the introduction to the piece, Lorber told how he almost crashed his car when driving in Los Angeles back in 1993 when he heard it being "sampled" by Lil Kim on her Crush On You track. Apparently he was pleased that Rain Dance would reach a new audience, but somewhat shocked that nobody had seen fit to tell him it had been used by Ms. Kim!

Tonight's concert was the only UK date on the quartet's UK tour and was only the second time that Philadelphia born Jeff Lorber has played at Ronnie Scotts - an early present for him ahead of his 60th birthday on November 4th! A few years ago he became seriously ill with polycystic kidney disease and is still with us due to a successful transplant, courtesy of his wife.

A couple of moans from me. How can Ronnie Scott's not be able to get its espresso machines either fixed or replaced for a Saturday night? Something strange was going on in Soho this evening - I had dinner before the show in a nearby restaurant which was unable to supply coffee of any kind, and then went to another place for dessert to find that they had no ice-cream! It really shouldn't be that hard in the centre of London for goodness sake. And whilst you are sorting the coffee machine how about getting a bit heavier with those amongst us who can't keep quiet for two minutes? Ronnie would have had their liver. Perhaps its my age.

Rant over. A great night of instrumental jazz/ jazz-funk that has tempted me to go to the Funky Sensation club night...wonder if I can tempt some friends from the old days to come with me...Paul, Louise, what do you think? And by the way, does anyone know if you can get Eddie Henderson's Running To Your Love on CD? Its not on Youtube (yet) which is a bit of a surprise...


  1. Yes I'm definitely old enough to know about jazz funk - but never managed an all nighter! Great piece selected here. Loved Ronnies before the revamp and the days of jokes about the stale sandwiches.

    1. Hello Judith and thanks for commenting. Yes, the food was pretty dreadful in the old days and Mr Scott used to make sure there was quiet during the music.