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 Amazon.com
It is also available from StraightAhead
Records as a regular CD, an Emerald Audiophile CD, and (gasp) on Vinyl.