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Fourplay: The Spirit of Four – Review

September 20, 2012

By Lois Gilbert
Managing Director, JazzCorner.com


For more than two decades, Fourplay has crafted R&B and pop along with the firm foundation in jazz to create their own contemporary

FourPlay

sound. Esprit De Four, Fourplay’s last outing on CD delivers another solid, contemporary jazz release as the follow up to 2011’s Let’s Touch the Sky. This is the second album to feature the group’s newest member, guitarist Chuck Loeb. Here he joins the all-star lineup of keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason, each of whom contribute at least two compositions to the release.

One of the more notable tracks is the Bob James’ composition “Put Our Hearts Together” which he wrote for a concert in a region severely impacted by the devastating Japanese tsunami of 2011. It appears as both an instrumental and vocal version on the CD. Japanese pop star Seiko Matsuda lends her voice on this moving tribute.

“The people of Japan have been very supportive of my music for more than 30 years, and I’ve made wonderful friendships there,” says James. “When the tragedy struck, I was immediately motivated to do something.” He first performed the song at the Iwate Jazz Festival in Japan in September 2011, just six months after the disaster. “I attempted to compose something that would have a universal spirit. I could never have known how this song would grow and take on a life of its own as a result of its premiere performance last September.”

James’ other contribution is “Sugoi,” which is also influenced by Japanese music and culture, which James has gravitated to over the past few years. “Despite many attempts to learn the language,” he says, “I admit to knowing only the most basic conversational phrases. The title means ‘Nice…I like it.’ I hope people will say that after they hear the song.”

“In the songwriting and recording process, we were building on the spirit we felt during the making of our previous record, Let’s Touch the Sky,” says James, recalling their first recording with Loeb in the guitar position. “We had made the adjustment to Chuck’s sound, and had really enjoyed performing the new music on the road. So we were eager to follow up on this new direction the band had taken.”

Loeb concurs, noting that Esprit De Four is a satisfying balance of the known with the unknown – not just for himself but for his bandmates as well. “We were all in the mood to make an adventurous CD with challenging music, but still maintain that unmistakable Fourplay sound,” he says. “We always try to have fun and keep our spirits united in the effort toward excellence in sound, production and musical content. I personally always want to bring the best songs and performances to my work with these three legendary artists whom I have the great fortune to be working with.”

Loeb’s additional contributions to the set include the upbeat and percussive “Sonnymoon” (a composition dedicated to Fourplay manager Sonny Abelardo) and the gently atmospheric “Logic of Love.”

The highly elastic and intriguing “Firefly,” written by East and frequent collaborator Tom Keane, is inspired by a young jazz trio from Stockholm called Dirty Loops. “They’re great musicians and good friends of mine,” says East. “I was hoping to capture some of the same fun and energy and unique chord progressions that the trio band is known for, and Fourplay really delivered it.”

East and Keane also came up with the slow and smoldering “All I Wanna Do,” a nod to Fourplay’s more romantic side, written in the tradition of the Neal Hefti classic “Li’l Darlin,” which the band covered on their 1993 album, Between the Sheets. East’s sensual vocals deliver the song’s unmistakable invitation to a passionate interlude.

Mason’s “Venus,” built on an engaging piano/guitar interplay, is both cosmic and melodic at the same time. “It evokes the image of the thought-provoking planet of love,” says Mason. “The song is mentally seductive, with a warm, simple melody supported by transparent dissonant chords that together create a probing, ethereal mood. When I write ballads or love songs for this group, I can’t miss, because these guys are so extremely sensitive and romantic.”

The title track, Mason’s second contribution to the album, closes the set with its anthemic vibe and unmistakable gospel undercurrent. “The guys clearly loved the direction the song was taking in the studio, so I went with it,” says Mason. “As the album came together, this tune – which remained nameless for the duration of the project – took on a feeling of unity, and I was honored when the guys named it ‘Esprit de Four.’ It’s truly amazing how things develop and take shape in this band. We always seem to be able to follow the path that unfolds when one is able to trust his instincts.”

Fourplay has the collective magic down pat. Bob James, Nathan East, Chuck Loeb and Harvey Mason have tapped into the creative force that emerges when four brilliant players commit themselves to a singular goal. That symmetry and creativity are at the heart of Esprit De Four on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group.

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