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The Fusion Master: Jeff Lorber brings his pioneering blend to the Oxford 

Jazz fusion master Jeff Lorber comes to Bend.

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In 1977, then-Portland-based jazz keyboardist Jeff Lorber and his Jeff Lorber Band recorded and released an album called Fusion. Working from musical foundations laid down by Weather Report, The Crusaders and Miles Davis, Lorber melded straight-ahead jazz with elements of rock, funk and R & B into an amalgamation known thereafter as "fusion."

"When I was at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, I played a lot with guitarist John Scofield who was a fellow student and saw a lot of jazz greats play in and around the Boston area. Slowly, I went from being a jazz purist to being heavily influenced by what The Crusaders, in particular, were doing with melodic funk and R & B," said Lorber.

Fusion, the album, caused more than a bit of controversy upon its release. "Confusion is a better name for that music," groused more than one noted traditional jazz musician.

"I was so young and clueless and just delighted to get out there and play that the controversy didn't mean much to me. Plus, bands like Weather Report were really getting dissed by the press," said Lorber.

Back in Portland, the Jeff Lorber Band got nothing but positive press and local support.

"Portland club owners really got behind our playing and so did others around the state. I fondly remember a date we played at The Inn of the Seventh Mountain in Bend in 1978," Lorber recalls.

In the 1980s, Lorber stopped using the term fusion ("it started to sound dated," he says now) and at the urging of his recording label at the time, started doing more solo work and vocals. "I know my singing turned off a lot of my fans," he jokes.

In the process of his solo work, Lorber is credited by many for creating what would become known as "smooth jazz." Now he's back with a new album (Now is the Time) that was nominated for a Grammy this past year and will appear in concert June 17 as part of the Oxford Hotel's ongoing - and popular - jazz series.

Featured along with Lorber at the Oxford will be genre-spanning sax player Patrick Lamb, who's celebrating the release of his new album. Lamb, as one Bend reed player recently noted, "has tremendous straight-ahead chops, but is also a master at funk, soul and smooth playing."

"In 1996, I brought Patrick to Portland to play with me on my Shades of Soul, album. I became a big fan of his and urged him to work on his career, which he did with great success," said Lorber.

Joining Lorber and Lamb will be Roberto Valley, who normally plays bass for guitar great George Benson, and guitarist Jeff Korder.

"We'll play a mix of my old stuff and material from the new album and follow up to it that I'm working on now," Lorber indicated.

And that's the hallmark of the Jazz at the Oxford series, bringing in artists with strong Northwest ties who have national reputations for their past and present work. The series has also provided an accessible gateway to jazz appreciation for many people new to the music.

There's also the club-like atmosphere that isn't lost on long time local jazz fans. Noted one, "The concerts are very reminiscent of what was going on in the New York jazz club scene in the '50s and '60s - low lights, nice food and drink and great music."

Jazz at The Oxford producer Marshall Glickman noted when he first announced the series, he wanted to create a place and atmosphere for an exceptional couples date night. He has done that. And created a superb venue for anyone who digs good jazz.

Leff Lorber Band, Patrick Lamb

6:30pm and 9:15pm (2 shows) Friday, June 17. The Oxford Hotel, 10 NW Minnesota Ave. $40. Tickets at Bendticket.com.

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