Fourplay - Let's Touch The Sky (Advance Review)

Fourplay
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After almost twenty years, a dozen studio albums and a whopping two personnel changes, Fourplay is one of the most enduring contemporary jazz outfits on the planet, combining musicians (keyboardist Bob James, drummer/composer Harvey Mason, guitarist Lee Ritenour and bassist/vocalist Nathan East) who are just  as compelling as solo players as they are within a unit. Fans who adore the band for their consistency may have been disturbed to learn that Larry Carlton, who had replaced Mr. Ritenour in the late 90s, was also now vacating the line-up, but they needn't worry, since acclaimed guitarist Chuck Loeb infuses their latest CD, Let's Touch the Sky, with both renewed energy and eclecticism.

After almost twenty years, a dozen studio albums and a whopping two personnel changes, Fourplay is one of the most enduring contemporary jazz outfits on the planet, combining musicians (keyboardist Bob James, drummer/composer Harvey Mason, guitarist Lee Ritenour and bassist/vocalist Nathan East) who are just  as compelling as solo players as they are within a unit. Fans who adore the band for their consistency may have been disturbed to learn that Larry Carlton, who had replaced Mr. Ritenour in the late 90s, was also now vacating the line-up, but they needn't worry, since acclaimed guitarist Chuck Loeb infuses their latest CD, Let's Touch the Sky, with both renewed energy and eclecticism.

As expected, the members of Fourplay composed a majority of ....Sky and take listeners on a tour of many-textured landscapes, such as the glib mid tempo groove, "Pineapple Getaway" and its evocative flipside, "A Night in Rio." "More Than a Dream" is languorous yet lovely as it unfolds and envelops the senses like a warm and twinkling blanket of stars, while "I'll Be Lovin' You," is irresistible, with Mr. East's gentle, guided vocals floating over a lush melody as he sings of the unavoidable passage of time and his enduring affection: "I don't know where we're gonna end up, but I know that we're gonna need a little bit of luck/...there's only one thing that's giving me some peace of mind, cuz' in the morning, I'll still be loving you."  The most straight-ahead jazz joint, "Gentle Giant," is a tribute to the late Hank Jones and pays tender tribute to the pianist's style, if not his exact technique.  

Veering from smooth to spicy is "Above and Beyond," a pulsating patchwork of keys, percussion and guitar licks, and "3rd Degree," an immediately infectious up tempo that galvanizes from its first synthesized burst of keys to its final high hat crescendo. "Golden Faders" casts a cool vibe, as does the richly romantic title track, which seems to have been composed solely for sunlit days, starlit nights and the sultry in-between.

Fourplay's musicality is enjoyably expressive without much vocalizing, so imagine the dashes of flavor that Anita Baker and Ruben Studdard add to the mix: Ms. Baker coos and croons of unabashed affection on the candlelight, wine-and-roses ode, "You're My Thrill": "Nothing seems to matter, here's my heart on a silver platter/...when I look at you, can't keep still. Child, I'm close to you, I lose my will." No one could match the brooding intensity that the late Teddy Pendergrass delivered "Love TKO" with, and thankfully, Mr. Studdard doesn't attempt to, transforming his remake into a lilting lament of yet another love gone wrong.

Like the well-oiled precision machine that it is, Fourplay's latest cements its reputation as a one of the genre's best-ever contemporary jazz bands. While some of its peers are recycling and refitting every new trend that comes down the pike, Fourplay maintains its mastery with modern touches and classic musicianship that will keep fans happy to ....Touch and absorb this bit of ......Sky over and over again. Highly recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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