Jeff Lorber's musical muse on the keyboards has always struck me as a mid-point between the more esoteric and "hard fusion" works of, say Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea/Lyle Mays and the jazz-lite, "smoothier" work of the Brian Culbertson/Bob James/Alex Bugnon school. Every once in awhile--case in point being "He Had A Hat"--Jeff veers to the more varied and adventurous (even though he goes more "classic" on that disc than fusiony). Other times--"Flipside" being the perfect example--he goes the other direction and becomes so frustratingly like the other "smoothies" that he's virtually indistiguishable from them.
Well, "Heard That" totally breaks the mold and hearkens back to his funkiest, most distinctive, and (in my opinion at least) his best work. Fender Rhodes is all over the place on this; I must admit inherent bias towards well played electric piano as my absolute favorite musical sound. And Jeff Lorber reinforces on "Heard That" that he is among the best on it, if not THE best (Herbie Hancock fans might object, and I'd agree there's room for debate on that subject).
Cut by cut: "Come On Up" with it's funky musical bed literally leapt through the headphones--some great interplay between electric keys, acoustic, and some brass punctuation. Reminds me of "Water Sign" updated for the 2000's, and that is a major compliment. "Rehab" is given a semi-Ramsey Lewis "In Crowd" treatment, but Lorber's ultra-clean production gives it a much needed shot of energy lacking in much of his predecessor Lewis's work. "Don't Hold Back" gets funky, groovy, and has what I call that "slapback" going on--I won't hold against him that he's mostly acoustic on the keys here cuz the tune just slams..."You Got Something" is the usual vocal nod to contemporary R&B that he throws at least one cut of on each album; its cousin track "Don't Stop" and the (mostly) instrumental "Take Control" are only average for Jeff. Which is to say that these three tracks, if they appeared on a Bobby Lyle or Alex Bugnon CD, would be well above average. "Gamma Rays" hearkens back to Jeff's Fusion days; this is what "Black Ice" would have sounded like if it came out in 2008 instead of in 1976. "The Bomb" is just that--more of that funky "slapback" and some way cool Fender Rhodes make this baby explode. "Night Sky" starts off in a similar fashion but lays back into a comfortable groove on acoustic. The best is saved for last--the title cut, "Heard That", is one of the best things that Funkmeister Jeff has ever committed to digital (or vinyl for that matter, revealing the age of the reviewer). The organ/sax/Fender Rhodes interplay, the "in the pocket" blues groove, punchy brass accents--it's all here and (to partially quote another one of my many favorites in Jeff's canon) really "Kicks It".
As a keyboard player of considerably less skill and talent than Mr. Lorber, I am in absolute marvel and awe as to how he consistently scores, release after release. Most of the time, he hits a home run or at the very least triples. With "Heard That", he's knocked a grand slam clean into the next park. In fact, it's so durn good I'll bet that your average "Smooth Jazz Radio" DJ will smile upon sampling it, but shelve it anyway, and instead queue up the ever-boring, nausea-inducing "Songbird" by the (former) protege of Mr. Lorber, one Kenny G who's gone the opposite direction (e.g. un-funked) with his music. Too bad that the well-deserved master will invariably take a back seat to the student, at least in the media that should be exposing listeners to the best (e.g. Lorber) that contemporary jazz has to offer instead of the most insipid.