Neil Larsen is definitely not a household name when it comes to contemporary jazz unless you’re hardcore, know your history, and have been listening to the music long before the “Wave” signified something other than what you surfed on. An extraordinary keyboardist, who’s spent a great deal of his career making other musicians sound better, this is only Larsen’s fifth release under his own name. In 1978 and 1979 he released Jungle Fever and High Gear for the A&M-Horizon label. He was not to be heard from, as a solo artist again until 1987 and 1989 when, for MCA, he released Through Any Window and Smooth Talk. For those of you old enough to remember, at one time, CBS Sports used Larsen’s “Windsong” from Jungle Fever as a theme song. One constant, over all these years, has been Larsen’s stellar organ playing, which is his predominant voice on all five of his solo recordings and, once again, featured on Orbit. Orbit is a mix of some new and some old. Neil revisits some earlier compositions, such as “Jungle Fever,” “Sudden Samba,” and “Red Desert,” albeit with new, sparser arrangements and instrumentation. Helping out on this recording are a number of old friends, Robben Ford, Jimmy Haslip, Gary Meek, Tom Brechtlein, and Lee Thornburg. This is one of the first releases from a new label started by recording and mastering legend, Bernie Grundman, the sound is excellent; I hope Grundman finds enough success to be able to get Larsen back in the studio for a follow up recording.
Hemispheres is a new group recording from Joel Rosenblatt on drums (late of Spyro Gyra), Ric Fierabracci on bass (latest trio recording with Frank Gambale and Virgil Donati), and Australian keyboardist Phil Turcio. These three music veterans, along with a little help from friends like Eric Marienthal, Gary Meek, Bill Evans, Steve Tavaglione, Christian Howe, Joel Hoekstra, Brett Garsed, and others, deliver a tasteful blend of funk, fusion and jazz, on this, their debut recording. This collection of eleven compositions is well written and arranged, and unlike other fusion outings with so many hired guns, never gets monotonous or out of hand. There’s great improvisation and interplay between Turcio’s keyboards and whomever is taking the sax, guitar, or occasional violin lead on a particular tune. Rosenblatt is his steady self, reminding one of how big a part he was to Spyro Gyra’s sound for 12 years, and Fierabracci lays down some nice fat tasty bass. This is great music that may never be heard on traditional radio. If you’re a fan of the Yellowjackets, Steps Ahead, and the Elektric Band – you won’t be disappointed.