Fourplay – Energy – Heads Up

by | Sep 29, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Fourplay – Energy – Heads Up Multichannel SACD HUSA 9146 **** [Release date: Sept. 23, 08]:

(Bob James – keyboards; Larry Carlton – guitar; Nathan East – bass, vocals; Harvey Mason – drums; guest: Esperanza Spalding, vocals (tr. 6))

Fourplay has been around since 1990 and have released several albums mixing their several influences: pop, R&B, soul, funk and jazz.  I notice the phrase smooth jazz never appears in their new releases, but I think if one had to categorize the group that definition would be unavoidable. However, I find most of the quartet’s efforts on a higher level, with more depth than most smooth jazz.

Keyboardist Bob James is the guiding light of this supergroup, with not only his formidable work on the keys, but also as composer and arranger. Guitarist Carlton replaced the quartet’s original guitarist, Lee Ritenour, in the mid-1990s.  He contributed two of the tunes on the ten-track disc, and all the other quartet members also are represented by original tunes. Three of the tracks are vocals, which for me offers a nice change of pace from the sometimes-similar sound of the instrumental tracks. Bassist East wrote Cape Town with two other members of his family.  It describes the journey of their grandparents, who were missionaries in South Africa two generations ago.  He returns vocally for the closing track, Sebastian, which is based on a chord progression in a Bach keyboard work. East’s voice is multiplied electronically, and Bob James does a virtuoso bit of Bachian counterpoint improvising.  The piece is quite a departure for the quartet and plays on the classical background they all share to varying degrees.

New bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding was brought in to supply the vocal on Prelude for Lovers.  The band members felt she contributed plenty of energy to the session – fitting since that’s the album title!  She concentrated on her vocal work rather than her doublebass expertise, and again her voice is sometimes multiplied and used for immersing surround effects. Of the instrumental tracks, I liked drummer Mason’s contribution, The Whistler, as well as Larry Carlton’s Comfort Zone, which has a more funky feeling than the other tracks and features a fine Carlton solo.

Fortune Teller, The Whistler, Ultralight, Cape Town, The Yes Club, Prelude for Lovers, Look Both Ways, Argentina, Comfort Zone, Sebastian

 – John Henry

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