Five years ago, keyboardist Mitchell Forman, guitarist Chuck Loeb, bassist Anthony Jackson, and drummer Wolfgang Haffner dangled an exciting carrot in front of those whose tastes fall between smooth jazz and bebop; the edgy yet often gentle and melodic Tree People--released by the German label Lipstick Records--harked back to the fusion heyday of the 1970s, when jamming improvisations ruled and radio didn't worry so much about not offending anyone's ears. With Victor Bailey replacing Jackson, Metro finally re-emerges with Metrocafe, an eclectic effort that blends Loeb's keen pop-rock sensibilities with Forman's obvious love for both elegant piano jazz and retro-funk and blues. The graceful, film score-like "House and Home" features Loeb's eloquent acoustic subtlety caressed by both Forman's acoustic piano harmony and synth orchestra. Then Forman takes over the lead melody, which grows slightly more aggressive and improvisational as he is egged on by Haffner's marchlike drum lines.
Loeb always seems to hold back on his popular smooth-jazz recordings, and it's good to hear him go for broke with his crisp yet expansive lines on funk-filled jams like "Month of Sundays." The core of that tune features Loeb's echoing strings dancing around Forman's percussive chord foundation. "Field of Diamonds" begins almost like one of Loeb's pop-jazz tunes, very New Agey and ambient; after a few minutes, he switches to electric and goes a more blistering guitar route. Forman's strong Rhodes playing, along with Bailey's bubbling bass, is the driving force behind the title track, which also features Loeb's balance of wooliness and grace. Vocalist Carmen Cuesta, Loeb's wife and collaborator, provides wordless vocals and a touch of exotica to the perky Brazilian-flavored "It's All Good." Stop by the Metrocafe soon, and ask the proprietors to open the doors more often. --Jonathan Widran