3

Fourplay: Esprit De Four

Jeff Winbush By

Sign in to view read count
Fourplay

Esprit De Four

Heads Up International

2012

Bands don't last over two decades with minimal turnover in personnel and continued success if they're composed of egotists, prima donnas, drama queens or people that just don't play nice together. Fourplay has endured and thrived because it is an egalitarian coalition of seasoned professionals who set aside private agendas to serve the group dynamic.

When a new guitarist joins Fourplay it typically takes their sophomore recording with the long-running band before they truly begin to fit in. In over 20 years there have been only three personnel changes, with original guitarist Lee Ritenour being replaced by Larry Carlton, who manned the spot for 12 years and seven albums, until he exited and Chuck Loeb became the "new guy" on Let's Touch the Sky (Heads Up, 2010).

Stability has been a strength for this assemblage of veteran musicians even if consistency has led the band to be dismissed by critics little more than slick, smooth jazz. That was truer before than it is now as the Fourplay of 2012 bears little resemblance to the 1991 version despite three-quarters of the lineup being still composed of founders Bob James, Nathan East and Harvey Mason.

James' keyboards are still at the heart of the group, but whoever the guitarist is gives it much of its soul, and on Esprit De Four a lion's share of the direction as well. Loeb is predominantly featured on the first four tracks and guides the group into making music that is too passionate to be "slick." Even when East takes his standard vocal turn on "All I Wanna Do," Loeb's guitar is front and center leading the way.

This hardly means the rest of the band recedes into the background. Mason's "Venus" is lush and lovely with James and Loeb gently trading leads before smoothly dueting to the close. "Sonnymoon" is the closest these old pros come to sounding like "classic" Fourplay, as the Mason and East rhythm section keeps things fast and funky. It's just an excuse for four minutes of jamming, but let no one think Fourplay can't still get down when it wants to.

If Loeb steps up to assert himself as primary soloist, James, who will turn 73 in December 2012, seems willing to relinquish some of the spotlight to Loeb, or at least doesn't seem the least stressed out sharing it. James has a deep fondness for Eastern culture and his two contributions, "Sugoi" and "Put Our Hearts Together," are evidence of that influence. "Put Our Hearts Together" (in both an instrumental and vocal version) is dedicated to the people of Japan in the wake of 2011's horrific earthquake and tsunami. Esprit De Four eschews the Fourplay formula of American chart-topping guest vocalists such as Anita Baker or Michael McDonald in favor of a demonstration of cross-cultural outreach, as Japanese superstar Seiko Matsuda to provides the vocals for "Put Our Hearts Together."

The charge most frequently levied at Fourplay by its detractors is that the music is safe and formulaic. While it would be an untruth to say this is the most freewheeling quartet in jazz, it's petty to confuse popularity and acclaim with shallowness and superficiality. Fourplay cares too deeply about its music to be a cynical superstar band conceived as little more than a cash grab.

Tracks: December Dream; Firefly; Venus; Sonnymoon; Put Our Hearts Together (instrumental); All I Wanna Do; Logic of Love; Esprit De Four; Sugoi; Put Our Hearts Together (vocal).

Personnel: Bob James: keyboards; Nathan East: bass, vocals; Chuck Loeb: guitars, synths; Harvey Mason: drums, percussion, vibes, synths; Seiko Matsuda: vocals (10); Lizzy Loeb: additional vocals (1); Kenny Mason and the Voices of Praise Choir.

Track Listing: Decembr Dream; Firefly; Venus; Sonnymoon; Put Our Hearts Together (instrumental version); All I Wanna Do; Logic of Love; Esprit De Four; Sugoi; Put Our Hearts Together (vocal track)

Personnel: Bob James: keyboards; Nathan East: bass, vocals; Chuck Loeb: guitars, synths; Harvey Mason: drums, percussion, vibes, synths; Seiko Matsuda: vocals (10); Lizzy Loeb: additional vocals (1); Kenny Mason and the Voices of Praise Choir

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Heads Up International | Style: Contemporary/Smooth


Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows Extended Analysis Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows
by John Kelman
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House Extended Analysis Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House
by John Kelman
Published: March 4, 2017
Read Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word Extended Analysis Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word
by Doug Collette
Published: March 3, 2017
Read Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight Extended Analysis Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon Extended Analysis Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon
by Doug Collette
Published: February 18, 2017
Read Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix) Extended Analysis Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)
by John Kelman
Published: February 12, 2017
Read "Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker" Extended Analysis Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 13, 2016
Read "Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny" Extended Analysis Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny
by Dave Wayne
Published: May 30, 2016
Read "Seth Walker: Gotta Get Back" Extended Analysis Seth Walker: Gotta Get Back
by Doug Collette
Published: September 18, 2016
Read "Buddy Guy: Can't Quit The Blues" Extended Analysis Buddy Guy: Can't Quit The Blues
by Doug Collette
Published: September 3, 2016
Read "Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House" Extended Analysis Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House
by John Kelman
Published: March 4, 2017
Read "Nat Birchall: Creation" Extended Analysis Nat Birchall: Creation
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 23, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: DOT TIME RECORDS | BUT IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!