Will the real Jeff Lorber please stand up?
The 34-year-old musician is a man of many hats. He leads his contemporary ensemble, for which he plays state-of-the-art computerized keyboards and composes pop/R&B vocal tunes. And he spends about half his time as a studio musician, working on projects for such people as DeBarge, the Isley Brothers, Jeffrey Osborne, Barbra Streisand and the Manhattan Transfer.
The relaxed Lorber seems to take all this activity in stride. "This is always what I've wanted to do, make my living as a professional musician," he said prior to a rehearsal at Backstage Studios in North Hollywood. "I like all these aspects--writing, playing, trying to make records that are artistically and commercially successful."
Lorber, who appears Sunday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, admits that one of his goals "is to be an innovative pop artist."
This remark might seem surprising coming from the same Jeff Lorber whose "Soft Space" LP thrilled jazz/fusion fans in the late '70s, but he doesn't think so. "In a sense, I haven't moved away (from jazz/fusion)," he said. "I'm still involved. Yet at the same time, I'm trying to create R&B/pop records that will appeal to a larger audience."
Lorber is on the edge of pop success with "Facts of Love," the first single from his debut Warner Bros. LP, "Private Passion." The single just hit number 56 on the Billboard Top 100 and is on Black and Dance charts as well.
Past singles, such as "Step by Step," the title track from his 1985 Arista LP, also sold well, appearing on the Black and Dance, but not the Pop, charts. This single seems to have "more potential." Why?
"There are so many factors," he said. "Maybe this is a better song than 'Step by Step,' which did reasonably well. Maybe it's the right song at the right time with the right label, with the right promotion behind it. Maybe it's the performance of everybody involved, from the singers to the engineers."
The lead vocal on "Facts of Love" is done by Karyn White, whom Lorber discovered through his current male vocalist, Michael Jeffries. Lorber auditioned several singers and ended up choosing White: "She had a nice attitude, the right kind of delivery, plus she has an interesting way of approaching music. She injects personality into the tunes, something that's unique, that grabs your attention. She's more than just technically proficient."
Lorber has been including vocals for several years, often by band members who sang as well as played. But he began to emphasize them when he toured last year in support of "Step by Step." And then, he went overboard.
"That band suffered a little because of the vocal emphasis," he said. "It wasn't quite as exciting as when (saxophonist) Kenny (G) was in the band. I didn't spend as much time working on the instrumentals on 'Step By Step,' and I got a lot of feedback from fans who said, 'We really miss the old Jeff Lorber.'
"So on 'Private Passion,' I spent a lot more time and energy on the instrumentals. I also did my best to get back to my old way of writing, which is to sit at the piano and just write, rather than get out the drum machine and synthesizers and see what happens."
Lorber's transition toward vocals is a natural evolution for him. "In the '70s, I really liked the jazz/fusion things done by people like Weather Report, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams. It was a very exciting time, and I still listen to that music."
Today, Lorber turns to more contemporary pop and R&B artists for inspiration. "I enjoy people like Peter Gabriel and Bruce Hornsby, and producers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis," he said. "They are the kind of breakthrough artists that make music that's much more stimulating harmonically and rhythmically than average pop music."
Lorber's current tour will last about three months, after which he'll return to two of his favorite musical pastimes--producing (he's set to do White's debut LP) and working in the local recording studios.
"Studio work is intensely creative. You go in and you're faced with a certain musical problem, like to do an arrangement or come up with overdubs, and you solve it. It's a satisfying challenge."