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- 4A Silver Lining04:53
- 7Silver Streak06:23
- 8Precious Metal07:22
Info for Silver
Longevity among jazz groups is a surprisingly rare commodity. With relatively few exceptions, a run of a few years, at most, is standard; for a collective of jazz musicians to stick together for a decade or more is almost unheard of. That puts Fourplay, who celebrates their 25th anniversary this year, in a league of their own. Since 1990, bassist Nathan East, keyboardist Bob James, guitarist Chuck Loeb (who joined five years ago) and drummer Harvey Mason have continued to explore together, their efforts resulting in what All Music Guide called one of “the most intuitive, forward-thinking and focused groups in modern jazz.”
On Silver, set for release November 20, 2015 on Heads Up, a division of Concord Music Group, Fourplay celebrates that unprecedented bond with their most wide-ranging and gratifying recording to date. Following the theme of the occasion, most of the 10 new original compositions comprising Silver play off of the anniversary, bearing titles such as “Sterling,” “Precious Metal” and “A Silver Lining.” Just like its namesake, Silver shines, each track a brilliant example of what has made this formidable ensemble—each of whom also has a highly successful career outside of the band—one of the most respected in the jazz world.
For each member of Fourplay, the group’s ability to remain so creative after so many years together has been a reward in itself. Says Nathan East, “It became apparent from our very first album that this particular group of musicians had a special sound. We appreciate whatever that chemistry or magic has been between us and have had a great time on our journey together as we’ve developed our music.”
“Fourplay is four voices melding together to create a truly distinct and recognizable sound,” says Harvey Mason, explaining the quartet’s ability to continually find new avenues of expression. “This group has so much musical experience that the accompanying and the listening are over the top. We’ve all been sidemen as well as leaders and we cover the gamut of musical genres. It’s a great feeling to know you can go in any direction and you’ll be supported and pushed. We work together—that is what you hear when you listen to Fourplay.”
That sense of fellowship permeates Silver, from the first notes of the opening track, “Quicksilver,” a Chuck Loeb piece that both spotlights the guitarist’s fluid lines and his bandmates’ innate capacity for locking into a groove and building something indelible and substantial along the way. It’s followed by “Horace,” whose title might seem out of place on the recording until composer Bob James explains that it’s his tribute to one of his favorite jazz pianists, the late Horace Silver!
“Sterling” is next, co-written by Nathan East and Chuck Loeb. A brief opening piano statement from Bob James leads directly to a virtually orchestral expedition spotlighting Loeb’s lyrical melody lines; James, East and Harvey Mason provide the newest member with sturdy rhythmic support but never in a static manner, focusing instead on the kind of vibrant interplay that only a group of musicians for whom intuition is second nature could ever hope to achieve.
“When the group started, we were just experimenting,” says James. “We all were curious about how the group dynamic would be different from our individual projects. We have no leader, but we are all leaders.” Silver, he adds, “was approached pretty much the same as all our projects. Each of us developed new original compositions separately and eventually brought them into the studio to develop.”
Indeed, the music on Silver, although composed by the members of Fourplay either individually or in collaboration with the others (and with a few friends), flows cohesively with an inherent single-mindedness that often makes it impossible to determine where a given idea originated. “A Silver Lining,” stemming from drummer Mason, sways softly, spotlighting not so much the deep grooves Fourplay readily kicks up but a more elegiac side of the band. ...
Bob James, piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer
Nathan East, bass, vocals
Chuck Loeb, acoustic and electric guitars, synthesizer
Harvey Mason, drums, percussion, vibes, synthesizer
Larry Carlton, guitar (5)
Lee Ritenour, guitars (10)
Kirk Whalum, tenor saxophone (8)
Chris Wells, background vocals (7)
John Beasley, additional keyboards (10)
Mitch Forman, organ (3)
Tom Keane, synthesizer (9)
For two decades, the contemporary jazz quartet known as Fourplay has enjoyed consistent artistic and commercial success by grafting elements of R&B, pop and a variety of other sounds to their unwavering jazz foundations. In the course of a dozen recordings – six of which have climbed to the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Album charts – the supergroup has continued to explore the limitless dimensions and permutations of jazz while at the same time appealing to a broad mainstream audience.
The Fourplay story begins in 1990, with keyboardist Bob James, who had already established himself as a formidable figure in keyboard jazz – not just as an instrumentalist but as a composer and arranger as well – with solo recordings dating as far back as the mid 1960s. In 1990, James reunited with his old friend, session drummer, producer, composer & recording artist Harvey Mason (Herbie Hancock, Barbra Streisand, Notorious Big), during the recording of James’ Grand Piano Canyon album. Also involved in the project were guitarist Lee Ritenour (Sergio Mendes) and bassist/vocalist Nathan East (Barry White, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins).
The Grand Piano Canyon sessions marked the genesis of the group that eventually came to be known as Fourplay. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1991, and included a blend of jazz, R&B and pop.
The original line-up of James/Ritenour/East/Mason stayed together for three successive albums, including Elixir (1994), a set that features some high-profile guest vocalists: Phil Collins, Patti Austin and Peabo Bryson. East also delivers some noteworthy vocal contributions on Elixir, and has continued to do so throughout most of Fourplay’s subsequent studio outings.
Ritenour, whose guitar work in tandem with James’ keyboards served as the cornerstone of the early Fourplay sound, left the line-up in the mid-1990s and was replaced by Larry Carlton (The Crusaders, Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones). Carlton made his first studio appearance with the band with the release of 4 in 1998. 4 included compositions by all four members, as well as an impressive crew of guest vocalists: El Debarge, Babyface Edmonds, Kevyn Lettau and Shanice.
Following the 1999 release of Snowbound, a mix of traditional and contemporary holiday songs, Fourplay shook things up a bit with Yes Please!, an album that challenged the standard definitions of contemporary jazz by incorporating elements of blues, funk and even Celtic music. JazzTimes critic Hilarie Grey called Yes Please! “an expansive album that incorporates each artist’s strengths, and in the process travels in some unexpected directions.” Grey added: “Yes Please! works where similar projects fail simply because it lets its artists play, without imposing artificial boundaries.”
The sense of experimentation continued with the 2002 release of Heartfelt. The material in this set emerged from a series of improvisational performances that were assembled into full compositions. As a result, the tunes have less clearly defined melodies, but the overall album is both exploratory and accessible at the same time.
Journey, released in 2004, is a laid-back affair, but complex at the same time. Consistent with Fourplay’s eclectic philosophy, Journey incorporates a range of stylistic elements – as evidenced by such high points as the delicate cover of the 1993 Sting hit “Fields of Gold” and the Mason bossa nova flavored “Rozil.”
X followed in 2006, with guest vocals by blue-eyed-soul icon Michael McDonald, who delivers an inspired rendition of Steve Winwood’s “My Loves Leavin’.” JazzTimes called X “a softly funky, superbly crafted and unapologetically low-key album.”
Fourplay joined the prestigious roster of artists on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group, with the 2008 release of Energy, which spent three consecutive weeks at the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart. The album grafts a variety of sounds – R&B, pop, African and more – to Fourplay’s unwavering jazz foundations. In addition to vocals by East, Energy features a vocal track by bassist Esperanza Spalding.
After 12 years with the group, Carlton left in April 2010 to delve further into his solo career, and the band welcomed its newest member, multi-faceted virtuoso guitarist, Chuck Loeb. His musical contributions undoubtedly enhance the creativity and pursuit of excellence Fourplay has enjoyed in the studio and on the stage.
Loeb makes his highly anticipated debut with the quartet on Let’s Touch The Sky, the band’s new recording scheduled for release in October 2010. The album also includes thrilling performances by guest vocalists Anita Baker and Ruben Studdard.
The infusion of new blood into the Fourplay line-up creates an opportunity to bring an even higher level of energy and inspiration into a band that is already known for taking chances and pushing the limits of contemporary jazz. “All four of us have been in this business long enough to know that there’s always pressure to compromise, and we don’t want to do that,” says James. “We don’t want to end up in the middle of the pack. We always aim to be leaders, and take the music to another level and raise the standards higher. I think the music on this new record, thanks in large part to Chuck’s early contributions – and to the ongoing team spirit of the band as a whole – is very much a reflection of that philosophy.”