By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Some have referred to Fourplay as a "smooth-jazz supergroup," and while the description may be technically accurate, it doesn't really do it justice. While Fourplay's polished, contemporary sound seems right at home on smooth-jazz radio, the four musicians have roots that stretch deep into traditional jazz, funk and fusion, lending their music a depth and authority just not found in many of the cookie-cutter releases that seem to dominate the format.
Keyboardist Bob James, a native of Marshall, Missouri, is the best known of the foursome thanks to his multiple Grammys, movie- and TV-scoring work (Taxi), and his series of recordings in the '70s and '80s for CTI and Columbia. A clever melodist and crafty arranger, James also has been heavily sampled over the past twenty years by hip-hop producers who know a good groove when they hear it. Guitarist Larry Carlton recorded thirteen albums with funk-jazz pioneers the Crusaders and has also enjoyed a busy career as a solo artist and studio musician. Drummer Harvey Mason is best known as an original member of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, but he's also an accomplished composer and arranger in his own right. And bassist Nathan East has anchored the rhythm section for an impressive roster of artists, from Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder to Quincy Jones and Phil Collins.
Because he's the best-known composer in the group, one might expect James to dominate the proceedings, but this is not a "Bob James' Greatest Hits" show. Fourplay was conceived as and continues to be a group effort, with all the members contributing songs and arrangements. Moreover, live performance gives these veteran studio cats the opportunity to stretch out and blow in a way that they can rarely do on record. With all four players on top of their respective games, Fourplay serves notice that jazz can indeed be smooth without being bland.