Esprit De Four is their latest and for me perhaps their finest release in their storied career. This is the second release featuring guitarist Chuck Loeb with the fascinating aspect that the band made the necessary adjustments to fit his sound and the unique and harmonious symmetry continues without interruption but instead a fresh perspective.
A good 4tet when firing on all cylinders is a thing of beauty and fourplay's latest Esprit De Four which street on September 18th is no exception. Each member contributed an exciting mix of tunes to what I refer to as more of a jazz collective then I do a contemporary jazz group in the most traditional sense of the word. Opening with "December Dream" which is a Chuck Loeb original we find this most formidable foursome taking on a deceptively subtle melody with the ability to change the intensity of the dynamics at a moments notice. Texture that builds on texture, layered harmonic development while never losing that keen sense of melody that is the wheelhouse from which fourplay operates. Nathan East who has a musical resume as long and as distinguished as they come contribute "Firefly" and "All I Wanna Do." The tune "Firefly" is inspired from a young jazz trio from Stockholm called "Dirty Loops" and is an expansive open ended look at the contemporary sound but again steeped in texture and an infectious funk supplied by a bass solo from East which is flash fried funk at its highest level. Loeb follows suit with a lyrically driven solo and Bob James joins in the fun making old school fusion new school cool. Harvey Mason is the rhythmic glue for "Firefly" and shows off his own prolific talens as a composer on his tune "Venus." Mason coaxes a slight ambient feel between the guitar/piano interplay. The Whispers used to release records with a side for dancin and a side for romancin. "Venus" is a gorgeous ballad that would go to the top of the romancin pile without a second thought. "All I Wanna Do" is another gem from Nathan East which lingers between that soulful and blues infused happy place that is a slow jam taken to another level. "Sugoi" is a Bob James tune influenced by Japanese culture and is one of those rare hybrids that ties both the east meets west form and functionality of improvised music together perfectly. Odd meter infused with texture and an intriguing harmonic development give "Sugoi" that three dimensional sonic depth of field that separates fourplay from the run of the mill contemporary ensemble merely doing a riff on a pretty melody. The vocal track of "Put Our Hearts Together" is somewhat of the feature track of the release paying tribute to the victims of the tragic tsunami and the aftermath of the nuclear emergency and seemingly endless cleanup still going on. Lyrics for "Put Our Hearts Together" were written by James daughter Hilary James and delivered with incredibly artistry by the Japenese superstar Seiko Matsuda. Unlike other tribute songs that are seemingly slapped together, Hilary James lyrics combined with the music and stunning delivery by Matsuda will have this tune linger not just in your head but in your heart and in your soul long after that last note.
Typecasting and generic labels need to be avoided if at all possible when it comes to most artists and fourplay is certainly no exception. The vocals are dialed back and have perfect placement, the compositions are expansive and cover a great deal of musical ground that needs to be hit. The talent on display here is equal to our greater than any jazz release I've heard this year. The other two also happen to come from the same label Concord Music and HeadsUp. Arguably their finest release to date. I will say it again, this is not a quartet but a jazz collective with harmonious synergy and a lyrical sense of direction and purpose that knows no limits.
Tracks: December Dream; Firefly; Venus; Sonnymoon; Put Our Hearts Together; All I Wanna Do; Logic Of Love; Esprit Of Love; Sugoi; Put Our Hearts Together ( Vocal Version).
Personnel: Bob James: keyboards; Nathan East: bass, vocals; Chuck Loeb: guitar, synths; Harvey Mason: drums, percussion, vibes, synths