Fourplay – Silver – Heads Up

Fourplay – Silver – Heads Up Int. HUI 36688-02, 59:01 ****:

Veteran jazz quartet celebrates a quarter century with fresh music.

(Bob James – piano, Rhodes, synthesizers; Nathan East – bass, vocals; Chick Loeb – acoustic, electric guitars, synthesizers; Harvey Mason – drums, percussion, vibes, synthesizers; Larry Carlton – guitar; Lee Ritenour – guitar; Kirk Whalum – tenor saxophone; Chris Wells – background vocals; John Beasley – keyboards; Mitch Forman – organ; Tom Keane – synthesizer)

Fourplay is celebrating their 25th year as a band with their latest release, Silver. Amazingly, the band has kept much of its core members, Bob James, Nathan East and Harvey Mason. The only non-original band mate is guitarist Chuck Loeb. But this special celebration includes former guitarists Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour. And the 13th Fourplay album delivers the melodic grooves that define the band. The opening track, “Quicksilver” (and nearly all of the titles reflect the “silver” theme) is set up by James’ piano hooks, Loeb’s clean-cut guitar lines and a joyful solo by James. East and Mason amalgamate the tempo with their steady rhythm play. Additional synthesizers and “Brazilian-like’ vocalese create a resonant touch. Breaking away from the “metal” theme is a cool jazz composition by James (“Horace”) paying homage to Horace Silver. There are many traditional jazz elements to this performance including bluesy piano and East’s Wes Montgomery-inspired licks.

The various instrumental elements of Fourplay blend effortlessly. “Sterling (co-written by Loeb and East) has a driving pulse and fluid dynamics. At the 2:30 mark, there is a shimmering interlude on piano with atmospheric layers. Loeb’s guitar lead is nimble and the chemistry between East and Mason is impressive. As a songwriter, Mason contributes “A Silver Lining”. This number is quieter, melodic with a gentle waltz rhythm. James’ piano lines are lyrical, but very delicate. Mason subtle tempo adjustments are noteworthy and so is Loeb’s acoustic guitar. Changing direction, Loeb collaborates with Larry Carlton on the hard-charging, groove romp “A Silver Lining”. The dual guitar effect galvanizes the groups’ rhythmic chemistry. A James piano solo adds some bluesy shading. James adds an introspective sentiment to the ballad, “Mine”. There is a near-classical melody progression, but with Fourplay’s tight arrangement.

On “Silver Streak”, the band meshes jagged guitar “keyboard-vibes” and delicate piano in an intriguingly complex manner. “Precious Metal” is soulful with the inclusion of Kirk Whale on tenor saxophone. The gently rolling tempo provides a stellar backdrop to Whalen and Loeb. A key to the success of this band is artistic interaction and mutual respect. Each member will alternate from lead to background with graceful finesse. “Aniversario” approximates Brazilian moods with funky undercurrents. There are elegant interludes with piano radiance. The finale is a ballad by Mason and Larry Carlton (“Windmill”). Again, the participation of another former member makes Silver something special. Carlton’s fluent and harmonious guitar lead is hypnotic and is complemented by James’ agility.

The sound quality of this recording is stellar. The richly layered mix is robust and the singular instrumentation is intricately precise and crisp. While there is a familiarity with the music, it is a welcome one.

TrackList: Quicksilver; Horace; Sterling; Silver Lining; Silverado; Mine; Silver Streak; Precious Metal; Aniversario; Windmill

—Robbie Gerson

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