CD Reviews: Jeff Lorber, 3rd Force, Jesse Cook

Jeff Lorber, 3rd Force and Jesse Cook all have new music.

Jeff Lorber

You could say that pianist and producer-extraordinaire Jeff Lorber is getting a new lease on life. Fresh off a live-saving kidney transplant donated from his wife, Lorber now offers one of the best CDs in his storied career. Following Gigabyte and Philly Style, which grooved with fresh and modern sounds, he now returns to an organic and jazzier approach. Lorber says he felt like he�d gone as far as he could with that style, and the result is a fresh and cerebral project that�s a joy to listen to and is an early lock for many of 2005�s Top Ten lists.

Although he keeps the familiar jazzy grooves his fans love, Lorber aims to surprise listeners with the unexpected twists and turns of old-school swing rhythms and modern hip-hop, with a fair amount of be-bop improvisation. The ten songs on the album, co-produced by Lorber and Steve Dubin, feature Ron King on trumpet, Gary Meek on saxophone and additional keyboards by Nelson Jackson.

In addition to a new version of �Tune 88,� a song Jeff originally recorded for his 1980 album Water Sign showcasing the Wurlitzer organ, standout tracks include �Everybody Knows That,� where Lorber�s rapid playing show his tremendous skills; the first single, �Ooh La La,� a languid and memorable musical stroll that swings, baby; the jazzy joy and electric keyboard-driven �Santa Monica Triangle�; and �Sun Ra� and �Enchanted Way,� where King and Meek get a chance to improvise around Lorber�s melody.

This is kind of hip jazz you�ll like.
Smooth grade: A

3rd Force
Driving Force
(Higher Octave)

On their last CD, veteran smooth jazz group 3rd Force slowed things down for the very mellow, and very intoxicating, Gentle Force. Now, as a bookend to that project, William Aura, Craig Dobbin, Richard Hardy and Alain Eskinasi offer the appropriately named Driving Force, the band�s seventh CD. The album pays homage to Detroit funk and adds modern elements such as samples and turntable scratches by DJ Radius.

3rd Force has always had an in-the-pocket groove and high production qualities that left nothing out of place. The sound was chill music before it even existed. You could dance to their music or mellow out to it, all the while keeping your feet shuffling. A few years ago, 3rd Force � always just a studio band � played live for the first time, and this may have led to the energetic direction of Driving Force. New to this project is veteran drummer and musical director Xavier Marshall, who keeps the overall sound funky and hip-(hop)notic with plenty of horns and percussion.

Guest stars add to the vibe, with guitarist Brian Hughes strumming along on the first single, �Believe In Me,� and Greg Adams throwing in some flugelhorn. Guitarist Marc Antoine lends his unmistakable touch to �You Got It,� a dreamy vibe that recalls the band�s mellower mood. Also contributing are saxophonists Eric Darius and Tom Scott.
The upbeat CD closes with �Inside,� a New Age-ish tune featuring the Nepali flute of Reuben Shresha and vocals by Rashmi. It was recorded in Kathmandu, where Aura makes frequent trips to record music.
Smooth grade: B+

Jesse Cook

Ten years ago, Canadian rumba flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook burst onto the smooth jazz scene with a CD called Tempest, an exotic and bouncy effort that Ottmar Liebert fans immediately took to. Cook has continued to release music but flamenco and world music stylings have fallen out of favor on smooth jazz radio, meaning Cook hasn�t gotten much notice recently.

Montreal, a live album recorded in July at the Metropolis Theatre during an international jazz festival in the Canadian city, reminds us of Cook�s amazing talents on the guitar. A live album is a perfect setting for him and for listeners. Whether bouncing along with such memorable songs such as �Breeze From Saintes Maries,� �Rattle And Burn� and �Jumpstart� or slowing it down on melancholy ballads like �Cascada,� the crowd�s constant cheers and spontaneous clapping put you right in the middle of the action.

Throughout the 14 songs, the listener absorbs the full range of Cook�s musical influences (he was born in Paris and moved to Canada at a young age with his parents), with elements of sounds from Spain, Egypt, France, Africa, Cuba and Brazil. At the same time, Cook reminds us of why flamenco music continues to have a hold on smooth jazz listeners.

This is the kind of CD that gives live albums a good name.
Smooth grade: A