Jazziz Magazine Review

By Jonathan Widran

It’s a steamy late-summer night in Los Angeles, and someone forgot to turn on the air conditioning at The Baked Potato, the legendary hole-in-the-wall club in Studio City where Carol Duboc takes to the tiny stage to celebrate the release of her latest album, Colored Glasses (Gold Note Music). She is backed by the non-stop energy of her longtime musical associates: keyboardist Jeff Lorber, bassist Jimmy Haslip, guitarist Michael Thompson and drummer Gary Novak.

A petite woman, Duboc sits atop a stool on the small stage to deliver the many up-tempo numbers in her hour-long set. The stifling heat does nothing to detract from the confessional nature of the repertoire. Singing her songs, she says, is “cheaper than therapy.” Although Duboc has landed on the smooth-jazz airplay charts numerous times during her 15-year recording career – most recently with “Elephant,” from her 2013 release Smile – she’s opted to devote tonight’s entire set to the emotionally resonant material on her new album.

The tunes range from the “can’t quite let you go” lament of “Every Shade of Blue” to a sly, soulful “Colored Glasses” – the seemingly optimistic title of which calls to mind the CD’s cover art, which depicts a pair of aviator sunglasses against a black backdrop. But the title is largely an ironic front for songs that find Duboc sorting through the process of cutting ties with an ex-flame. For instance, “Hypnotic,” she explains, is a warning about what happens when you focus too much on good times shared with a troubled lover. She dedicates the contemplative “Breathing” to her young daughter, her lifeline through a painful breakup and divorce.

Focusing on the new album proves effective, as Duboc relates brief, personal anecdotes between songs and quickly develops a rapport with the small but enthusiastic crowd. At one point, an audience member offers her a glass of wine, and she kindly accepts. She also leaves a bit of room for her colleagues – collectively known as the Jeff Lorber Fusion – to jam. She has them warm up the crowd with “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” encouraging each musician to wail individually.

During an interview a few days later at her home in Pacific Palisades, Duboc mentions that she’s watched a video of the performance, and likes it even better than when she was creating it in the moment. “We were considering previous material,” she says, “but this album has so many good tunes that combine to tell the story — it was hard to figure out what we would leave out. Thematically they all fit, but there was another reason for just doing songs from one album. Jeff was purposely trying to write a few more up-tempo tunes than I had included in my past recordings, and that makes for a better, livelier show. I’ve always done well with ballads, but I’ve discovered you can’t do a ton of them in a show if you want to keep the audience engaged. So we found a blend of slower and up-tempo tunes that fit both my voice and his grooving keyboard style.”

Duboc and Lorber co-wrote all 10 tracks on Colored Glasses. One of those songs, “Wavelength,” explores the positive side of a challenging relationship when everything seems to be in synch. But lines like “Riding up and down this train to places you take me to” and “We’re on the same wavelength” could just as easily apply to Duboc and Lorber’s collaborative history, which began in the early 2000s when a mutual friend at EMI Music Publishing introduced them. At the time Duboc was working on a project to be produced by Earth, Wind and Fire founder Maurice White. Duboc and Lorber began collaborating on material for this project. Though the record deal with White ultimately fell through, “I Wanna Love Someone” – one of a dozen songs Lorber and Duboc wrote in their initial flurry of creative activity – later found daylight as a track on the singer’s second independently released album, Duboc, in 2002.

A little over 10 years and three albums later, Duboc and Lorber picked up where they left off, co-writing and co-producing Smile, which included contributions from Haslip and Thompson in addition to a batch of contemporary-jazz heavy hitters: drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr. and one of Duboc’s old friends, flutist Hubert Laws. Each returns on Colored Glasses.

“There’s this amazing dual magic that happens when I work with musicians of this caliber who I have also known and vibed with for so many years,” says Duboc, who launched her career in the 1990s penning tunes for Patti LaBelle, Chanté Moore, Tom Jones, Stephanie Mills, Fine Young Cannibals and the late George Duke. “There’s the instant comfort of friendship and familiarity even as they are helping me take my emotional and vocal game to the next level. All of them are artists in their own right, adding production value and that special boost without overshadowing me or forcing anything. When you put those guys together, it just works. They’re brilliant guys doing what they’re put on earth to do.”

Considering how the title Colored Glasses captures the album’s overall tension between lingering entrenchment in the past and hopeful optimism for the future, it’s interesting to note that Duboc nearly called the album “Big Dipper” after NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain. Early on in their musical relationship, she and Lorber were floored to realize that each knew the hoops great as a close friend at different junctures of his — and their — lives.

Lorber grew up in Philadelphia, where his father, a heart surgeon, was the team physician for the Warriors and 76ers during the years Chamberlain played for them. He became a close family friend over the years. Duboc met Chamberlain while attending USC as a music major. Intrigued by her skills on the school’s tennis team and impressed by her as a vocalist, he befriended her. Duboc later discovered that Chamberlain told her father that she was one of the best female athletes he had ever met. She wound up teaching him tennis, and the two became great friends and tennis partners until his death in 1999.

Lorber and Duboc began talking about him again when they were working on Colored Glasses. “Wilt came up in conversation because Jeff was talking more about his father, who had recently passed away,” the singer says. “When we were in the midst of writing and recording, he emailed to tell me that the U.S. Postal Service had released a stamp commemorating Wilt. As the sensation that somehow Wilt was with us while we were recording grew, we briefly toyed with the idea of writing a song for and naming the project after him We stuck with our original concept, but there was always this eerie but comforting feeling that he was part of what we were doing. He was a great friend to both of us, and it was just one more thing that cemented the incredible friendship and creative chemistry Jeff and I share.”