by Ernest Barteldes
On Unspoken (Shanachie, 2017) , legendary Fourplay and Steps Ahead lead guitarist Chuck Loeb explores various sonic textures over a collection of ten originals he either –except for one – wrote or co-wrote. He kicks off the album with the up-tempo “Cotton Club,” a funk-driven tune that he dedicates to the staff of the eponymous Tokyo venue, which he describes on the liners as “my favorite jazz club in the world.” The track was co-written with Jeff Lorber, who also contributes piano – including a dexterous solo – to it.
Loeb plays various instruments throughout the track – on tunes like “Natural Light” and Way Up High” he performs virtually everything except drums. Though the arrangements to these tunes are relatively sparse, he uses them as a fodder to improvise more freely – on the former, Andy Snitzer contributes a mellifluous solo, while Loeb adds interesting textures on acoustic guitar.
The title track has a more downtempo feel, and features fellow Fourplay member Nathan East on electric bass and Brian Culbertson on piano. It’s the kind of track that makes you appreciate light jazz – accomplished, beautifully written and accessible.
“Si Se Puede” – which he dedicated to Barack Obama – has more of a bossa feel, with a more subtle arrangement that gives guest trumpeter Till Brönner plenty of space to stretch. Way Up High (written by his daughter, Lizzy Cuesta) also has a bossa feel, featuring gentle vocals by his wife Carmen Cuesta, who also appears on the samba-driven “Voramar” and the trippy “Via Verde,” which also includes daughter Christina Loeb on vocals and ukulele (the only appearance of the instrument on the album).
Unspoken is a great offering from Loeb – a concise and yet intriguing album that feels fresh after multiple plays – which this writer recommends to any fan of smooth jazz guitar.