Smooth jazz – no thanks! Jeff Lorber Fusion feat. Eric Marienthal / Jazz na Starówce

Yesterday on the spur of the moment in a window of opportunity for some ‘me time’ I decided to check if a cycle ride down into the city would yield something of cultural edification. I saw that the Jeff Lorber Fusion featuring the sax player Eric Marienthal were appearing at Jazz na Starówce at 19:00. Just enough time to cycle down to the Old Town in a sedentary way and grab an lolly before the start. 

I was a little apprehensive because Jeff Lorber was described in the listing for the event and the subsequently purchased (2zl) program as an ‘Icon of smooth jazz” and I was turned off smooth jazz a good few years ago. Being a amateur sax player I would listen to anything which had a sax in it and after a couple of years I started to get the same feeling when silky smooth jazz music filled the air as one has when you’ve over-eaten a rich chocolate cake and someone offers you a huge fourth helping. I locked my bike to a road-sign and joined the obvious jazzers who had already also arrived on bike and were reminiscing before the start of the concert. 

Jeff Lorber Fusion feat. Eric Marienthal / Jazz na StarówceOnce the band started up it was clear that they were class and that they could have easily played ‘smooth jazz’ – the sax occasionally hinted at this but the sound they delivered soon dispelled any reminder of Chocolate gateaux and they and dished-up savoury tapas – a wonderful vibe of cross-rhythms, funked-up melodies and rip-roaring rocking solos. Nate Phillips on bass (I couldn’t see if it was the six-stringer I’ve seen in videos) played effrortlessly and was dead tight with Gary Novak on drums who didn’t ever take the wide and easy path – he took the narrow difficult path but never to the detriment of losing the position of team time-keeper. Jeff Lorber was very affable and gave some interesting insight into where and how he’d composed some of the tracks. His ability to respond to Eric’s sax and vice versa just made it all worth-while and I couldn’t stop myself getting into this groove. In the moments when Eric leant more towards rock than jazz I felt like I was listening to someone from the school of Dick Heckstall-Smith. 

I stayed until the end. They played through numbers such as ‘Toad’s Place’, ‘Chinese Medicinal Herbs’ and Surrepticious as well as one inspired by Weather Report. There were hints of Weather Report, Chick Corea and Colleseum rolled into the evening which for me just popped out of nowhere and lined up the stars and the swallows. This video filmed in Minden during the jazz festival is probably the best one to give a sample of their sound and is acceptable as far as film and sound  are concerned although it doesn’t have Nate and Gary playing at this point. The moral of the story? I really wanted to quote Nicolo Machiavelli: “Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are” but it will have to be something much more street: sometimes you arr told you’ll be given gateaux but you end up relishing savoury snacks.


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