One of the “highlights” from this jazz season had to be standing back stage with the members of Fourplay just minutes away from their world premier with guitarist Chuck Loeb. It was the first lineup change in several years as he replaced legendary Larry Carlton. I wished Chuck the best of luck on opening night there at Seabreeze. Then he and his three band mates went out and blew the audience away as they closed out the night. I couldn’t wait for them to get in the studio together.
The cover has the four musicians reaching into the sky as to appear there are no limits this band can’t achieve. "I want to be a part of the legacy they've built, going all the way back to their first recording and right up to their most recent one," says Loeb. They open with the title track which is heavily enriched with Bob James’ piano. The heavily corded opening gives way to livelier piano accompanied by Loeb’s guitar. They get together for an interesting mix. Add in a little scat from Nathan East along with the simple percussion of Harvey Mason, and the ensemble is complete. I really like "3rd Degree" as the band mates pick it up a notch. The title is taken from Leob being the third guitarist for the band. It gives him a chance to shine, and he keeps it tight with the rest of the band. Lots of syncopation here will be a favorite for jazz enthusiasts. James adds his signature licks on keys, and they both play back and forth to a resounding end. "Pineapple Getaway" is more mystic in its approach as Jame’s electric keys lay down the background for Loeb’s guitar. The chorus has that James inspired sound while driven by some nice work by Mason throughout.
Each member of the band shines on "Gentle Giant" as they slow down the pace somewhat. East is featured on acoustic bass along with James on piano. Mason adds a lot on snare which gives this one a real club feel. "A Night In Rio" features the distinctive sound of East’s vocals as it opens, and features some of the best work of Loeb. I believe this is one of the one’s you may want to listen to if you’re looking to hear any differences in the new line up. Listen close. You won’t hear any, ha! One of the surprises here has to be the vocals of Ruben Studdard on the classic "Love TKO." He does a great job, and the band wraps around him nicely. He was recruited by East, after the two had appeared together in a live performance last year. The driving "Above and Beyond" is classic Fourplay. The intro leads into to a guitar hook that we haven’t heard much of yet. As always, the entire band is fully featured and I think this is one you’ll really enjoy. Anita Baker is also added to the mix on the sultry closer, "You’re My Thrill." Her vocals play off James keys like an old night club evening in a time long ago.
Fourplay fans will be happy with this release. Each song features all four members on basically every track. They do not skip a beat with the addition of Loeb on guitar. There are always new classics on each Fourplay disc as well as a couple of surprises. That format has served them well over the years, and they don’t get away from it here. Says Harvey Mason, “In some ways, bringing someone new into the fold has made us a new band. It opens up new opportunities and new potential, and we want to see how high we can take it." Indeed they continue to climb higher and higher.