|SHADES OF SOUL|
SHADES OF SOUL is...
Jeff Lorber Marlon McClain Nathaniel Phillips
For over 20 years, Grammy®-nominated keyboardist Jeff Lorber has given us some of the most forward-thinking and best-selling contemporary jazz. In 1994, Lorber joined forces with guitarist Marlon McClain and bassist Nathaniel Phillips as Shades of Soul, resulting in the band’s self-titled debut. Streetwise and soulful, the session bucked the too-smooth jazz of the ’90s and rekindled an earthy, funky sound. Fast forward nearly ten years, and it’s just the beginning for Shades of Soul’s cool, urban grooves.
The trio traces its roots back to the 1970s Portland music scene. McClain
and Phillips were founding members — alongside Sherman Davis, Donald
Hepburn, Dennis Springer, Dan Brewster, and Bruce Carter — of the band
Pleasure. Taking shape in 1972, the band’s horn-driven sound brought jazz
overtones to its funk/soul foundation. Enjoying a cult-following in and
around Portland, Jazz Crusader Wayne Henderson saw them perform in a local
club in 1974 and — so impressed with what he heard — his enthusiasm led to a
deal with Fantasy Records where he produced four of the band’s six albums.
Pleasure’s 1979 outing, FUTURE NOW, featured keyboard phenom Jeff Lorber on
synthesizer. “Marlon and Nate were the only people I knew in Portland making
records and it all just clicked from there. The bands I really got into,
like Pleasure, tended to feature awesome, hard-rocking grooves behind the
jazz improvisations,” reminisces Lorber. “Playing with Marlon and Nate was
very natural and very spontaneous. It was a great time...and a great way to
With special guests Chris Botti,
Terry Stanton and Art Porter
in one of his last recordings
During those years, Lorber’s own career was on the fast track. Recording his first album in 1976, he had no specific design in mind. Artist experimentation was the name of the game and Lorber set no limits on his own freewheeling expressions. He simply drew from artists he admired — from Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power, Miles Davis, to The Paul Butterfield Blues Band — combined those influences, simmered slowly and discovered a sound that has easily withstood the test of time. Lorber fondly refers to the wealth of music he created on his earlier album as “second generation fusion”, starting with Jeff Lorber Fusion’s self-titled debut. During the first half of the following decade, the band became one of the most popular jazz acts of the period, touring non-stop and even scoring a Best R&B Instrumental Grammy nomination for the 1984 radio hit Pacific Coast Highway.
Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, the threesome’s paths continued to cross. McClain rendered producing services and played guitar and Phillips guested on several of Lorber’s albums, including WEST SIDE STORIES and STATE OF GRACE. In 1985, following the departure of founding member Eric Fearman, McClain joined the quintessential electro-techno funk group, The Dazz Band, several of whose later albums, UNDER THE STREETLIGHTS and DOUBLE EXPOSURE, featured Phillips on bass. At the time, Phillips’ band Cool’r signed to A&M and Lorber added his talents to their label debut.
Despite their various successes, Lorber, McClain, and Phillips longed for
the more free-wheeling vibe captured during their sessions together back in
1970s Portland. “We wanted to re-live the spirit of making music on the
spot,” recalls McClain. And, by 1994, the trio reunited in their spare time
to simply play together, with very few expectations. Lorber explains, “We
had such an easy feeling when we played together, we didn’t want anything to
get in the way of that. There were no imminent plans to release an album. We
were just having a lot of fun getting back to that funky, jazzy sound we
loved.” The spontaneous nature of the project perpetuated later the same
year when Lorber and Phillips were guesting on saxman Art Porter’s 1994
album, UNDER COVER. “It seemed like a natural fit to invite Art to lay down
a few tracks with us,” says Lorber. The session proved to be doubly
memorable following the news of Porter’s tragic death only a few years later
while on tour in Thailand.
During the next several years, the band came together a few more times to record and, in 2000, they were joined by another Oregon native, trumpeter Chris Botti. “Chris was in between labels at the time, but he came in to play on Gazpacho and San Vincente. His sound is so unmistakable and it blended beautifully with ours.” The project was nearing completion — the final piece of the puzzle was the vocals. Lorber had met Terry Stanton and played with him on Hidden Beach’s UNWRAPPED recordings. “I saw him perform live at St. Lucia Jazz Festival and Marlon and Nate knew him through The Dazz Band as well. We all agreed that he would be great. Luckily for us, he was into the idea!” mentions Lorber. Stanton gives several tunes, including All Night Long and the Eric Benet-penned Enjoy Yourself, a near perfect touch of soul and funkified jazz that easily calls to mind EWF and Sly & The Family. “Enjoy Yourself,” adds Lorber, “is one of my favorites on the record. It sums up all that we were trying to do — namely, enjoying ourselves.” The title track also is a stand out for Lorber. “There’s a break down section in the tune where we created some interesting effects with the vocals. Now that’s what I call fun.”
When asked if the album was ahead of its time when it was recorded, Lorber replied that the record seemed to have a destiny of its own. “We had several offers to release it through the years and it never felt quite right until now. If we had released it earlier, it’s hard to say what would have happened. We wouldn’t have had Chris Botti or Terry Stanton, and without them, it just wouldn’t have been this good.” What is certain is that, in an age of contemporary jazz personalities, Shades of Soul stands strong together as a cohesive band. He adds, “I’m pleasantly surprised that I find myself listening to this record more than most of the projects I’ve been involved with. You can really hear that we came together as old friends and became a band. There’s a lot of joy in there.”
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