Fourplay – Esprit De Four – Heads Up HUI-33738-02, 55:02 ***:
The group Fourplay is no new name to the contemporary jazz arena having been around since 1991 and currently employing Bob James (keyboards), Nathan East (bass, vocals), Chuck Loeb (guitars, synths) and Harvey Mason (drums, percussion, vibes & synth). Since 2008 they have released three albums on the Heads Up label. I mention this because I’ve always been impressed with this label’s attention to detail when it comes to producing good sound—i.e. audiophile quality.
The smooth jazz featured on this disc should be no surprise to the fans of the group. Some of the song titles alone (below) should give you an idea as to what sort of listening experience to expect. The sound is tuneful, highly competent with a consistent pace. All the musicians are so accomplished it would be hard to criticize the performance from a technical standpoint. When I go to a jazz club and want to “kick it” this is the kind of jam I like to hear—you feel your head moving back and forth without even realizing it as it was with “Firefly.” Other tracks take on a much mellower bent and lead the listener through waves of gentle appealing melodies.
“All I Wanna Do” is one of the non-instrumental tracks and explores more of the Soul/R&B side of the band while melding the jazz band with East’s vocals. There is even some funky guitar to hit it home. There isn’t anything revolutionary here, but that isn’t a bad thing for fans of Fourplay or smooth jazz. You’ll get what you expect and possible just a little more.
“Put Our Hearts Together” has a special meaning and was composed by James in response to the recent (2011) earthquake in Japan. The insert included with the disc details how many of the members of the band who performed the piece had lost their homes, their instruments and, in some cases, some of their family. It was all documented by NHK and broadcast on Japanese television. James’ daughter, Hilary, was inspired to write lyrics for the tune and when Seiko Matsuda heard it she liked it so much she offered to record it for with Fourplay for this record. Both the vocal and instrumental versions are on the disc. The vocal version has the quality that would lend itself to being in a musical with a power and emotion that isn’t present in a typical jazz ballad or vocal track.
TrackList: December 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).
A great vinyl upgrade of a jazz icon’s blues album.