Almo Sounds AMSD-80005 (1996)
Produced and arranged by Herb Alpert and Jeff Lorber
Rating: * * * *
Featuring: Herb Alpert, trumpets and additional keyboards; Jeff Lorber, keyboards; Nathaniel Philips, bass; John “J.R.” Robinson, drums; Paul Pesco, guitar; Michael Fisher, percussion; Luis Conte, percussion; Jimmy Johnson, fretless bass solo on “Flamingo”.
- Second Wind
- Wherever You Are
- Sneakin’ In
- Drivin’ Home
- Can’t Stop Thinking About You
- My Funny Valentine
- Side Steppin’
- Across The Bridge
- Sugar Cane
Composed by Herb Alpert and Jeff Lorber, except: “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” by Herb Alpert; “Flamingo” by Grouya/Anderson; My Funny Valentine by Rodgers/Hart.
Four years have passed since trumpeter Herb Alpert’s last album, Midnight Sun. A lot has happened since then. Herb and his business partner Jerry Moss sold their A&M Records label to Polygram, and Herb took some time off from recording. With the formation of the boutique label Almo Sounds in 1994 (distributed by Geffen), I knew it wouldn’t be long until Alpert came out of hibernation to record an album.
This album was the result of a meeting with Jeff Lorber back in 1994, and was anticipated by the recording of “Winter Wonderland” on the Jazz To The World Christmas collection with Lorber. I admit to not being much of a Jeff Lorber fan; after all, he’s given us the likes of Kenny G. and Dave Koz, and some of his own recordings tend to be formulaic fusion exercises. Luckily, Alpert knew exactly what he wanted on this album, and was able to draw on Lorber’s talent (perhaps keeping it in check) without being buried beneath petty fusion cliches and layers of synthesizers.
Structurally, there really isn’t much to this album. The groove is loose, a bit laid back, and especially lean. There are five musicians in the basic band, and it sounds like five. No, it’s not acoustic, but Alpert uses the electric-based backdrop more as a canvas than a wall of technofunk to bury his trumpet in (memories of North on South Street come to mind). Most of the beats derive from a loose funk or hip-hop rhythm, but quickly step out of the way once established.
But despite its spare sound, there is plenty of room for Alpert to solo. This is not the Herb Alpert you’ll remember from the era of “The Lonely Bull” or “A Taste of Honey”. This is a more thoughtful, more mature Alpert, although you’ll still recognize his style. (He’s also added a mute to his back of tricks.)
How do the songs stack up? They’re a nice collection, actually. There’s nothing here that has that knockout quality of something like “A Taste of Honey” or “Rise” that screams “Top 40”, but that’s not the intent. The songs here act more as backdrops for Alperts soloing. A bit of melody lays down the foundation, and the solos are the colorful splashes that make it interesting.
The title track, “Second Wind”, punctuated by Hammond B-3 organ, perhaps recalls his Tijuana Brass style of trumpet playing the best, while the muted trumpet suggests more of jazz stylings a la Miles Davis (whom Alpert cites as an influence along with Bill Evans and Stan Getz). “Flirtation” is interesting in its used of plucked pizzicatto strings to accentuate the slinky, sexy groove. Tijuana Brass fans may recognize “Flamingo” from the S.R.O. album, and the one melodic song from the ill-fated street/hip-hop project North on South Street, “Can’t Stop Thinking About You”, is rescued for this album. “Sneakin’ In” has a funky, bluesy Hammond organ lick that transmutates into a light hip-hop beat upon which Alpert lays some muted trumpet melodies.
Most jazz lovers will have a take it or leave it approach with this album. Good jazz does not need to be strict and uptight, nor does it need to be difficult and discordant. By anyone’s measure, this is Jazz Lite. It’s enjoyable, well-crafted, loose, light jazz with funky overtones, employed with tact and restraint. This is one of Herb Alpert’s most solid albums, far better than the last couple of recordings he made at the old A&M. Alpert fans no doubt will enjoy this immensely; others who lean toward this type of music should also be pleased. Purists may shake their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about. But as it stands, it’s an album by an artist doing what he likes to do, enjoying himself in the process, and doing a fine job with the tools at his disposal. And there may be hope for Jeff Lorber yet! Recommended!