An informal, occasionally rambling conversation between longtime colleagues,Fourmost Returnconsists of seven previously unreleased tracks from a 1990 live performance at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City. With an emphasis on blues material, the record is a no frills blowing session, a format ideally suited to the individual talents of organist and leader Jimmy Smith, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and the drums and cymbals of Grady Tate.
The quartet’s performance of Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon For Two” sets the tone for the entire disc. Smith and Turrentine play the head in unison and Burrell takes the first solo. Riding Smith’s bass line and chords as well as interacting with Tate’s crisp snare drum accents, the guitarist begins with brief, almost casual lines, and gradually becomes both more fluid and dense, displaying an uncharacteristic sharpness of tone. Tate is even more assertive during Turrentine’s turn, anticipating his every move, and raising the rhythmic stakes with nicely timed cymbal crashes. Turrentine responds to all this stimulation with his best work of the set, efficiently melding a bebop-oriented approach and blues licks into a seamless whole. Smith dashes through his first chorus then pauses, letting a phrase or two sink in before impatiently moving on, constantly recasting similar elements while maintaining a kinetic groove.
Smith’s raspy, half-spoken vocal on “Ain’t She Sweet” leaves a lot to be desired in terms of technique, but the moment his solo begins none of this matters. His penchant for trafficking in extremes in the midst of building a coherent statement is gloriously in evidence. Abrupt shifts in dynamics; a sustained rush of notes followed by deck-clearing, keening chords; the hurly-burly of his lines temporarily converted into more relaxed interludes—all of these things frequently give one the feeling that Smith’s about to run aground; however, despite the implication of disorder he always lands on his feet.
Tate’s meticulous shuffle animates one of Smith’s signature compositions, “Back At The Chicken Shack.” The drummer’s trenchant fills enhance Burrell’s cogent blues playing, and also play a role in another agreeable solo by Turrentine. At first Smith responds to a strong backbeat by playing sixteenth note runs that both fly over and allude to it; then, his simpler phrasing incorporates Tate’s bedrock rhythm before again shifting to fleet passages and funky, chordal-framed interludes.