Plain ‘n’ Simple

Long before Chuck Loeb embarked on his remarkably diverse career that has included being Stan Getz’s musical director, holding the guitar chair in the 80s fusion ensemble Steps Ahead and, most recently, joining supergroup Fourplay, he was a kid growing up outside New York City, fascinated by the classic jazz organ trio sounds of his childhood. Capping a two decade-plus discography of popular and often groundbreaking contemporary jazz recordings, Loeb fulfills a lifelong dream with the release of Plain ‘n’ Simple, his debut release on his independent label Tweety Records featuring inventive ensemble work with legendary drummer Harvey Mason (his band mate in Fourplay) and organist Pat Bianchi.

Loeb’s dynamic, swinging approach to the ten originals, highlighted by “D.I.G. (Deep Inner Groove”) and two covers (the Brazilian tune “E Com Esse Que Vou Eu,” “Skylark,” which respectively feature the lush vocals of the guitarist’s wife Carmen Cuesta and daughter Lizzy Loeb), harken back to the cherished influential recordings that sparked Loeb’s early interest in jazz. Growing up, he was most inspired by Wes Montgomery’s Boss Guitar (featuring organist Melvin Rhyne), Montgomery’s later recordings with Jimmy Smith (Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo and Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes) and George Benson’s seminal work with organ greats Jack McDuff and Lonnie Smith (especially The George Benson Cookbook).

“That period of music was very important in my development as a guitar player, and with the opportunity to start my own label, I finally had the opportunity to develop a special recording that continues in that exciting tradition,” says Loeb. “For some of my fans, this will be something of a curveball, but I know when I perform, they are always there encouraging me to make music that I love and play the way I naturally play. Because I’ve been steeped in the soulful jazz of the 60s and 70s my whole life, it wouldn’t make sense to ignore it any longer.

“When you record for major labels,” he adds, “there’s sometimes this idea that artists have to stick with the same horse they rode in on, but I’m excited to take fans on a different journey where I can explore different facets of jazz. Being my own producer, I felt it was time to take a leap of faith like this. It’s essentially soulful retro music, but there are jaunts into jamming funk with ‘Red Suede Shoes’ and my wife, Carmen Cuesta, puts her wonderful vocal touch on the Brazilian song. I think my fans will hang in there with me and be happily surprised.”

While Plain ‘n’ Simple forges new musical territory for Loeb, in many ways, he laid the groundwork with his previous contemporary jazz release, Between 2 Worlds, which was his first recording ever centered on the guitar trio format with special guests. Another key impetus was a gig he did opening for David Sanborn at the River Raisin Jazz Festival in Monroe, Michigan in 2010. The sax great was headlining with a trio featuring Joey DeFrancesco and Byron Landham and asked Loeb to sit in. The experience of jamming with DeFrancesco—perhaps the most prominent Hammond B-3 master of his generation—inspired Loeb to think about the expansive possibilities of doing an organ trio project.

Loeb began developing the concept after meeting Bianchi (a rising B-3 star who has worked extensively with Lou Donaldson and Pat Martino) through guitarist Mark Whitfield. When he learned that Mason’s early history as a drummer included playing with organ bands, his core trio was set. Special guests on Plain ‘n’ Simple include percussionist David Charles, trumpeter/trombonist Nathan Eklund, trumpeter Till Bronner and saxophonist Eric Marienthal. Bronner and Marienthal are part of D.I.G., the ensemble Loeb assembled to tour with this music. They recently did numerous dates performing the Plain ‘n’ Simple material throughout Europe.

The titles of Loeb’s originals convey the overall energy and whimsical spirit of the album. Following the easy grooving “D.I.G” is the percussive and increasingly frenetic “Organeleptic,” the progressively funkier, brass-fired “Red Suede Shoes” and more horn based jamming on “The Blues App.” Other Loeb compositions include the darker toned melancholic bluesy title cut, the snappy and wild “You Got It,” “Bebop Betty,” the lively and swinging “Annie’s Song” and the gospel ballad closer “The Hello.” Mason contributes the graceful and romantic “It’s About You” to the mix.

In a career that spans four decades, Chuck Loeb has evolved as a versatile composer, arranger and producer in a wide range of musical styles and contexts. In addition to crafting a fine discography of his own and producing albums for a number of other high-profile artists, his resume also includes music for commercial jingles and a variety of television programs and motion pictures. He grew up in Nyack, NY, a suburb of New York City that was home to many artists who worked in the city, as well as a center for many arts, music and performance education programs. Self taught for several years, he began working with local bands in the area when he was 13, playing dances at the local youth center and eventually throughout the metropolitan area. Later, along with local teachers Richie Hart and Hy White, he traveled as far as Philadelphia to study with jazz guru Dennis Sandole, who eventually recommended that he study with the great jazz guitarist Jim Hall in New York City.

After studying with Hall for the last two years of high school, he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Two years of intense study there greatly strengthened his musicianship – not only as a guitarist but as a composer and arranger as well – but the lure of professional work led him to leave school early and move to NYC, where Loeb quickly began making a name for himself as a sideman with jazz luminaries such as drummer Chico Hamilton, Latin percussionist and bandleader Ray Barreto, flutist Hubert Laws and various others.

In the late 70s and early 80s, as a member of Stan Getz’s group, Loeb was the composer of much of the band’s repertoire and had the chance to tour the globe and perform at many of the world’s major festivals, jazz clubs and concert halls. Eventually, Loeb became the musical director of the group with his compositions comprising a large portion of the nightly repertoire. It was also during this time that he met and married Carmen Cuesta, a vocalist and songwriter from Madrid, Spain. In the years since, Loeb has produced a number of Carmen’s solo recordings, and the two have collaborated on various musical projects.

After leaving the Getz ensemble, Loeb resettled in New York and began to pursue a career as a studio musician. In addition to developing his chops as a producer, he logged thousands of studio hours recording, composing and producing albums, soundtracks, television show themes and jingles. In 1985, Loeb joined the group Steps Ahead with Michael Brecker, Michael Mainieri, Peter Erskine and Victor Bailey. Returning to the festivals and stages of the jazz world rekindled his desire to focus on his own music. After nearly ten years of intense studio work, he released his debut album My Shining Hour on a Japanese label, which led to several more releases on DMP, an audiophile label that was one of the first in the world to release recordings on compact disc. His nine year, seven solo album association with Shanachie Records began with the release of 1996’s The Music Inside; the collection’s title song held the number 1 position on the contemporary jazz charts for six weeks.

Concurrent with his solo career, Loeb also recorded with Metro, a four-piece contemporary jazz combo that included keyboardist Mitch Forman, drummer Wolfgang Haffner and a succession of bassists: Anthony Jackson, Victor Bailey and Mel Brown. Metro cut four albums on the Lipstick and Hip Bop labels between 1994 and 2002. In addition, Loeb played with the Fantasy Band with bassist John Lee, drummer Lionel Cordew and several session players. The Fantasy Band recorded three albums on DMP and Shanachie between 1993 and 1997. After leaving Shanachie, he signed with Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group Inc., and released Presence (2007) and Between 2 Worlds.

Loeb began playing with Fourplay (which includes Bob James and Nathan East, in addition to Mason) after longtime guitarist (and another hero of Loeb’s) Larry Carlton departed in early 2010 and made his recording debut with the group on Let’s Touch The Sky. When he’s not touring with his own music, the guitarist has been on the road with the band, doing numerous dates across the U.S., Europe, Indonesia and Africa.

“Being part of Fourplay has been the perfect situation for me,” Loeb says, “because I get to write for and play with some of my favorite musicians in the world. It was especially gratifying when Harvey agreed to take some of his precious time away from that group to record Plain ‘n’ Simple with me. We recorded it all in one or two takes over a two day period and I quickly realized that for everything I’ve done in my career, this recording truly captures the essence of who I am as a guitarist. I’ve long admired artists like Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, who are always challenging themselves and inviting their fans to come along with them. It’s wonderful to have the chance to be that kind of artist and share this very meaningful part of my life with the world.”

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