Any band in any genre of music, be it rock, country, classical or jazz can't make it two and a half decades based solely on pure dumb luck. Fourplay defied the critics who dismissed them as pop schlock when they debuted in 1991 and shook off the haters who never thought they would still be here 25 years later. The secret for the quartet's staying power is right there in the name: Fourplay. Four talented, versatile and experienced master musicians playing together. Nobody is the frontman and nobody is first among equals.
When Fourplay dropped their eponymous debut, one reviewer described it as "between jazz, R&B, and pop with an emphasis on lightweight originals, soulful and moderately funky rhythms, and predictable radio-friendly music." Not exactly a critical endorsement.
Though dissed and dismissed by the cognoscenti, no band lasts 25 years on slick sounds and dumb luck alone. Fourplay not only endures, but thrives as being a group people love to listen to even if critics hate to. Beyond the commercial success, the band's longevity is in no small part because they are a band. Lee Ritenour, East and Mason all were part of James' band for Grand Piano Canyon (Warner Bros, 1990) and from those sessions a superband was born. The fact they are still here when bands have largely vanished from jazz is a credit to their ability to sublimate the individual ego for the collective good of the group as well as the groove.
Let's talk about "super groups." In rock n' roll, established acts team up in a group all the time and watch the money roll in, but most of these pairings are merely cynical cash grabs for the short term. Jazz has always seen collaborations, but most of these super groups barely last beyond a few albums before calling it a day.
One of the biggest problems in jazz today is there are too many solo acts and not enough bands. There are things a musician can only learn in a band and one of them not every idea is always a good idea. In a band there's someone there to say, "Nah...don't like that one. Let's try something else" and that idea which was all wrong for a band might be perfect for a solo record.
No relationshipmusical or otherwise---lasts two-and-a-half decades without disagreements, conflicts and personality clashes. Fourplay has kept whatever internal dramas are going on in-house and out of the press. Ritenour exits and Larry Carlton enters with no drop-off. Carlton leaves and is replaced by Loeb and all three guitarists are back in the fold for Silver and some two-plus decades later that's it for the personnel changes.
Quiet as its kept, Loeb has somewhat supplanted James as the principal instrumentalist. No knock on James. He's still killin' it on the keyboards, but Loeb is leading from the front whether its his subtle stylings on "Horace" (as in Horace Silverget it?) or flat out rocking out on "Silverado" duking it out with Carlton as they swap guitar licks. Ritenour lays back a bit more on "Windmill," but its good to hear him back in the fold for the first time since 1994.
Don't sleep on James though because while he turns 76 in December and contributes only two of the ten tracks, they're two of the strongest with the aforementioned "Horace" and the lush and gorgeous "Mine." James is still the major domo of Fourplay, but he has gracefully shared the throne with his "younger" bandmates, Mason, East and Loeb.
The the major takeaway from Silver is simply this. Fourplay is not Bob James and his backup band or the Harvey Mason Quartet or the Nathan East Group or the Chuck Loeb Crew. Fourplay is, and has always been a band, and one of the most enduring, accomplished and greatest bands in jazz. Silver is as much a proud statement of resilience as it a triumphant celebration of achievement.
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