Between 2 Worlds by Chuck Loeb – reviewed by Chris Mann

OK, does Chuck Loeb need an introduction? I thought not. This is his second release as a leader for Heads Up International. Both the title and the music reflect the way Chuck’s time is split between the USA and Europe and the influences that this lifestyle has on his writing and playing.

The bright and breezy opener ‘Let’s Go’ is propelled by the tight drumming of Dave Weckl and features some sizzling guitar work. It’s adventurous and soulful at the same time. The horns are superb on this track and Brian Culbertson even shows up to deliver a trombone solo. The energy in this recording is incredible – who calls this ‘smooth jazz’? Fans of this music will know and appreciate the immense contribution of the late Hiram Bullock. This tribute to him, ‘Hiram’, drips with sadness and beauty, much of that beauty encapsulated by Will Lee’s fretless bass work. In a recent interview, Chuck told me Will was playing a bass owned by another sadly missed musical friend, Jaco Pastorius. This is a masterpiece.

‘Mittens’ is a showcase for that delicious, warm semi-acoustic sound I have long associated with Chuck Loeb. Horns and a great rhythm section play a perfect supporting role on a song that’s catchy and accessible, and always jazz. Exquisite – to my mind this is how a modern guitar jazz album should sound. Reinforcing the reason for the title of this album, ‘Between 2 Worlds’ co-written with Chuck’s wife Carmen, is a sexy Latin number featuring Carmen’s breathy vocals. Carmen has plans to release a strongly Latin-orientated album before long and if husband and wife create this type of musical chemistry, I for one will be looking forward to hearing it.

The talent in this family runs deep – listen to daughter Lizzy on the quirky and strutting ‘Oh No You Didn’t’. Father and daughter penned the song together and Lizzy’s sultry vocal should catapult this song right into the pop charts. Fans of Amy Winehouse, Adele and Duffy should really check this out. The rocky edge on the guitar is perfect for this. European pop-rock radio should seek this out right now. There are no keyboards on this CD – did you spot that? ‘Let’s Play’ is a jazz trio piece and it’s very technically demanding and very satisfying. Chuck Loeb, Dave Weckl and Gerald Veasley in great form – a dream team!

Latin fans will swoon to the blissful ‘Só Tinha de Ser Com Você. It’s the gentlest of bossa novas featuring Carmen on lead vocals, where Chuck’s glowing semi-acoustic plays a supporting role – and plays it just right. Mmm, que bom. And then, the funkiness of the US-recorded tracks gives way to the almost classical elegance of ‘The Great Hall’, a beautiful song written in waltz time where the guitar shimmers above Dieter Ilg’s comforting acoustic bass and some lighter-than-air drumming by Wolfgang Haffner.

James Taylor’s ‘Mean Old Man’ receives a lovely, understated treatment. I think of myself as a funk and ‘smooth jazz’ fan but if I knew where I could get more fine jazz recordings like this, made with finesse and heart, I’d buy a whole stack of them. The tribute to Pat Metheny, ‘360’ is another intricate jazz trio piece which somehow retains a sexy Latin sway in there. It’s very ‘human’ music – that’s the best description I can offer. It embodies the belief that Chuck expressed with the release of his previous album Presence, that when technology takes a back seat and people just play together, special things happen. I’m paraphrasing but I think I understood that right… ‘Early Turns to Late’ is a touching, almost heartbreaking tribute to Chuck’s parents. Its simplicity shocks me and the plaintive cry of Pat Bergeson’s harmonica can literally reduce me to tears. Beautiful.

I love Chuck Loeb’s music. It is an inspiring example of how contemporary jazz can be soothing or challenging – how it can be thought provoking or how it can put a big smile on your face. I thought I knew Chuck’s playing inside out until I heard his work with Metro. Now I’ve heard this and realised that once you’ve enjoyed the style and the technique of it, there is real depth too. Please support this outstanding release from this major contributor to the music we love.


Heads Up International HUCD 3151 Producer – Chuck Loeb