Release Date:
November 1, 2007

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

You know Neil Larsen. The name may not pop your eyes wide open but if you dig into your music collection and start reading liner notes his name will probably be all over them. He's played with George Harrison, Dan Fogelberg, Rickie Lee Jones, and Kenny Loggins, Joe Sample, George Benson, Randy Crawford, and Diana Krall to name a few. He was keyboard player and musical director for Al Jarreau for 11 years and has recently been a fixture in Gregg Allman's touring band. His two solo albums in 1979 and 1980 were cult and listener favorites with the college radio jazz-rock crowd (I was one) and their influence still crops up in releases as recent as Ken Navarro and Jeff Kashiwa's latest. He teamed up with guitarist Buzz Feiten and had a top 40 hit with "Who'll Be The Fool Tonight," then they put together Full Moon with Lenny Castro. Larsen released two excellent solo CDs on MCA in the late 80s that got quite a bit of airplay and still sound as strong today as they did then. You know Robben Ford too. If you go back far enough he was in Tom Scott's LA Express in the 70's when they opened for and backed up Joni Mitchell on the Miles of Aisles tour. He toured with Sanborn and was a founding member of the Yellowjackets. He has released a series of critically acclaimed blues albums including his latest, the Grammy-nominated True, and is currently touring on his own and doing dates with Larry Carlton. Jump over all that history and Larsen has brought together a super group that includes, along with Ford, bassist Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets), drummer Tom Brechtlein (Chick Corea, Al DiMeola, Wayne Shorter, Jean-Luc Ponty), Gary Meek on sax (again, get out those liner notes. He's there!)  and Lee Thronburg on trumpet.  
The session was recorded and mastered by label owner Bernie Grundman, this years Grammy winner for his work mastering Herbie Hancock's River, and produced by Stewart Levine (Crusaders, Jamie Cullum, Simply Red, and more). They used state of the art recording techniques and recorded live, directly to disc without overdubs, effects, tweaks, bells or whistles. The effect is quite amazing. Audiophiles have been raving about it all over the Internet. But even to someone whose hearing has been shot by years of loud music and can't hear the nuances and is listening on MP3 players, it sounds like you're on the front row at a gig in an intimate room where the sound is mixed to perfection. Listen for a while and you feel like you're being detoxed from too many years of listening to computerized, overproduced music.   This stuff is real in every sense of the word.

And what music this is! It's a mix of newer compositions and new takes on songs from Larsen's early albums. Having contemporary versions of these songs to share with a whole new generation of music fans is wonderful. Larsen always wrote on the bridge between rock and jazz with a heavy dose of funk thrown in. That's what we have here - keyboard driven rock/jazz/soul or, to be more specific, five extraordinary musicians giving all they've got to a delicious set of combustible grooves. It defies categorization the same way jam bands and progressive acts like Mediski, Martin and Wood, Galactic, and all these boundary bending artists who can't find a home in a radio format do. You can start playing this at any point on any song and hit a goosebump moment or a stunning solo. Want some driving rock that sounds like it was steeped in the Greg Allman tours? Check out "Sudden Samba." Something bluesy with a heavy dose of B-3? Try "Red Desert."  For sheer beauty there is  "From a Dream" and the engagingly melodic "Midnight Pass" and "Demonette." "Day Train" brings some deep funk and horns. "Arioso" features Meek on sax doing some straightahead jazz soloing. The title track is an all out showcase for Larsen, Ford and the horn players. Through all of this you are treated to solos by Ford, one of the finest and most respected blues/rock/jazz guitarists out there and Larsen's multiple keyboards churning up a storm.  
Orbit is on Grundman's label, Straightahead records, a label that is starting small and big at the same time by releasing this star studded project and building from the grassroots up. There was so much of a buzz from the first group of people to find out about it that the first pressing sold out with hardly any media coverage. Even hardcore members of the Neil Larsen Cult, people like me, stumbled in late on an arbitrary Google search then spread the word to friends who had, surprisingly, not heard about it either. Orbit is destined to be one of the finest and most influential releases of 2008 because it has brought us full circle, into and back to a time when category didn't matter, music was exciting and we had thrilling territory like this to explore. 
Orbit is available on   
It is also available from StraightAhead Records as a regular CD, an Emerald Audiophile CD, and (gasp) on Vinyl.