“Wicked Good!” Spyro Gyra and The Jeff Lorber Fusion LIVE! at MPAC

Spotlight Central
Spotlight Central
Published in
8 min readMar 18, 2024

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By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Jazz lovers inside Morristown, NJ’s MPAC auditorium this Thursday, March 7, 2024 evening ready themselves for a double bill of jazz starring Spyro Gyra and The Jeff Lorber Fusion.

Jeff Lorber is a Grammy-winning jazz keyboardist who launched his career in 1977 with the release of his debut album, The Jeff Lorber Fusion. The same year, Spyro Gyra released their self-titled debut album featuring the Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Shaker Song.” Since then, the group has released nearly 30 studio albums including the platinum-selling Morning Dance, and has also garnered 13 Grammy nominations.

The crowd cheers as The Jeff Lorber Fusion — Jeff Lorber on keyboards, Jimmy Haslep on bass, and Sonny Emory on drums — take the stage and open tonight’s show with “Water Sign.” Deftly accompanied by Haslip’s strong bass playing and Emory’s precision drumming, Lorber plays the catchy theme of this funky jazz fusion number on two keyboards simultaneously.

Lorber greets the audience and introduces them to Emory, who spent ten years playing drums with Earth, Wind and Fire, and Haslep, who played bass with the jazz group, The Yellowjackets.

Lorber and Co. sail into the funky jazz number, “He Had a Hat,” where the hip-hop inspired rhythm underscores Lorber’s syncopated keyboard runs. As the piece progresses, concertgoers tap their toes to Haslep’s six-string bass solo where he scat-sings as he improvises.

Haslep plays a repeated bass pattern in 7/4 time on “Chinese Traditional Herbs” as Lorber layers the melody above and Emory keeps time. Lorber’s piano solo features quick riffs punctuated by Emory’s rolls and shots, the notes flying — intense and electrifying — around the room.

The crowd hoots and hollers, and Lorber responds, “This next song — ‘Soul Party’ — is more funky!” Here, he and The Fusion play the song’s crisp syncopated melody on an arrangement where Emory rides the cymbal, Haslep scat-sings while fretting his bass, and Jeff Lorber’s fingers fly across his keyboard.

The crowd avidly applauds, and Lorber says, “This next song was sampled by Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease on ‘Crush on You’ but we’ll play the original version for you called ‘Rain Dance.’”

Music lovers respond to the jazzy chordal keyboard melody — also recognizable in tunes by Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande — emanating from the stage. The tune’s breezy vibe has heads bopping and bodies moving in their seats as Haslep is featured on bass. A fan animatedly calls out “Yeah!” as Lorber masterfully executes impossibly fast runs on the keyboard.

A highlight of Lorber’s set is Emory’s drum solo on “Rain Dance” where he starts out playing complex rhythms with brushes, switches over to sticks, and simultaneously twirls his sticks while playing rapid fire rhythm patterns. The performance ends in a flurry of notes which has music lovers erupting in applause as they leap to their feet while Lorber and Co. take a bow and exit the stage.

Following intermission, the members of Spyro Gyra — Julio Fernandez on guitar, Lionel Cordew on drums, Jay Beckenstein on saxophone, Scott Ambush on bass, and Chris Fischer on keyboards — take the stage and open their set with the dancelike “Pipo’s Song.”

Concertgoers drink in the good vibes as Beckenstein and Fernandez trade riffs on alto sax and guitar while accompanied by Ambush’s tight bass playing, Fischer’s effervescent keyboard work, and Cordew’s solid drumming.

The crowd hoots and hollers, and Spyro Gyra continues with “Freetime” where Beckenstein holds out long notes on the soprano sax while accompanied by rhythmic bass, guitar, and drums on this disco-inspired arrangement.

Beckenstein greets the crowd saying, “Welcome to our 50th Anniversary Tour! It was in the ’70s when I was in my 20s that we started this band!”

After introducing his musical colleagues, Beckenstein plays the introspective melody on “Ariana,” an easy and inviting number which has music lovers gently moving to the groove at their seats and Fernandez playing a dynamic guitar solo which inspires applause.

Beckenstein reveals, “I wrote this next song after a trip to Arlington National Cemetery.” Keyboard and soprano sax are featured on the rubato introduction of his somber yet hopeful composition, “The Unknown Soldier.”

After Fischer takes over the melody on keyboard, the band enters with march-like precision bringing the arrangement to a simmer before circling back around to the song’s beautiful and poignant conclusion.

Ethereal keyboard playing introduces “Percolator,” an uptempo pop tune which features Beckenstein playing the groovy staccato melody on alto sax while Fernandez accompanies with a wah-wah guitar part. After solos by Fernandez, Ambush, and Fischer, the band leaves Cordew center stage to play a forceful and syncopated drum solo. Belting his drum heads with sticks, Cordew floats over the cymbals keeping time with his body, inspiring hoots and hollers from the crowd before the rest of the band returns to conclude the number.

Julio Fernandez sings in Spanish as he fingerpicks his electric guitar on his original composition, “De La Luz.”

As the tune morphs and changes, Fernandez cries out in English, “New Jersey’s got some rhythm/You’ve got the rhythm in your heart!” and Beckenstein leads the audience in a Latin dance on soprano sax on this orchestral number.

On the funky and driving “Good to Go Go,” Beckenstein rocks on alto sax, Fischer solos with speed and agility on the keyboard, and Ambush gets the crowd clapping along before soloing funky and low on his bass, eliciting avid cheers from the crowd.

Beckenstein again acknowledges the band’s 50th anniversary, revealing, “People always ask me what kept us together for 50 years, and I tell them that it’s people coming to our shows!” prior to thanking tonight’s audience for being here tonight. He introduces a medley of early Spyro Gyra tunes which kicks off with the group’s debut radio hit, “Shaker Song.”

On the upbeat and breezy “Catching the Sun,” Fischer plays a clavinet solo and Fernandez makes his guitar sing before incorporating a snippet of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” into his solo.

The medley continues with “Morning Dance,” where audience members smile as they clap along to the tune’s irresistible vibe. Moving on to the Latin feel of “Old San Juan,” Beckenstein cries out on his alto before the band ends its set with the catchy and rhythmic “Heliopolis” which has audience members cheering on their feet for more.

Beckenstein thanks the crowd as he and his colleagues take a bow and wave goodnight. They return for an encore of the upbeat and rhythmic “Daddy’s Got a New Girl Now” where jazz lovers stand and dance before responding with enthusiastic cheers for an inspired Spyro Gyra performance.

As concertgoers exit the auditorium, several comment on tonight’s show. Exclaims Jerry from Edison, “I’m a Jeff Lorber fan and I loved this concert! This was my third time seeing Jeff and I just love his soul/funk jazz style,” prior to noting, “Plus, this was my first time at MPAC. I’d heard so much about it, and this place is out of sight!”

Whereas Barry from New Providence remarks, “Jeff Lorber was excellent and his band was impressive, too,” his wife, Cindy, insists, “I loved his keyboard playing! I play classical piano and I know how difficult it is to play two different keyboards at once — I was blown away by that.”

Anthony from Rockaway declares, “The Jeff Lorber Fusion was awesome! I’ve been a fan of Jeff Lorber for years. I first saw him about 25 years ago, and he’s still sounding great.” Anthony’s friend, Carlos from Morristown, concurs, insisting, “Jeff Lorber’s performance was masterful! It fed my rhythm and I was just groovin’ with it!”

Christy from New Jersey asserts, “I thought Spyro Gyra was incredible tonight — I had such a fun time at this show!”

Stephen from Reading, PA agrees, noting, “I’m a long-time jazz fan and Spyro Gyra was just as phenomenal as always!” Remarks Christy and Stephen’s friend, Justina from Merchantville, “I’ve been a fan of Spyro Gyra for 40 years. This is my 20th concert and they were phenomenal — this was the best concert ever!”

Lastly, Richard from Boonton acknowledges, “I’m a Spyro Gyra fan from back in the day, and they haven’t lost a step!” His friend, Keith from East Orange, agrees, joking, “I’m falling apart, but they’ve still got it!” prior to concluding, “The Jeff Lorber Fusion and Spyro Gyra were great tonight — both groups were wicked good!”

To learn more about Spyro Gyra, please go to spyrogyra.com. For further information about The Jeff Lorber Fusion, please click on lorber.com. For info on future concerts at MPAC — including the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis on March 24, Pat Metheny’s Dream Box Tour on April 5, and Buddy Guy’s Damn Right Farewell Tour on May 3 — please click on mayoarts.org.

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Spotlight Central
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