What's the new jazz sound?
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - June 8, 2012 - 12:00am

The recent visit of the super boy band NKOTBSB got me thinking about superbands. Do you know of any? You know, those groups made up of members who are also successful soloists. And by some strange coincidence, I found in my pile of albums to write about Let’s Touch The Sky, the latest CD release by Fourplay.

Now, this is one group that is truly super. Fourplay is jazz music’s finest contribution to the superband genre. It is made up of acclaimed instrumentalists Bob James on keyboards; Harvey Mason, drums and percussion; Nathan East, bass and vocals; and Chuck Loeb, guitars.

Judging from what they have accomplished on their own and the memorable Fourplay albums over the years, you can say that the ability of these artists to create stellar solo outings and then to also excel when working together with a group is truly remarkable.

James was recording his Grand Piano Canyon album in 1990 with East, Mason and guitarist Lee Ritenour when they decided to become a group named Fourplay. Ritenour left in 1995. He was replaced by another well-known jazz figure Larry Carlton, who stayed until 2010 and who was recently replaced by Loeb.

The guitar player may have changed over the years but the high quality of the music has remained consistent. In fact, I have a feeling that changing guitarists has richly contributed to the intrepid way that Fourplay continues to experiment with its sound and to explore the limits of fusion jazz. The band is refreshed every time and becomes once more exciting even after over 20 years.

Loeb debuts as Fourplay in Let’s Touch the Sky. He blends in beautifully. As expected the album is first-rate contemporary jazz, the kind you call cool and smooth, very sophisticated but always with sensuality vibrating below the surface. Because this is a supergroup, there is a tendency for the listener to concentrate on the solos. The only way I can describe the way these blend and interchange is stunning. But take note, too, of all the time they are playing together. They sound superb.

The best track for me is Mason’s More Than I Dream where James and Loeb playing are at their most lyrical. Also a standout is how East sings his composition, the sweet and easy I’ll Still Be Lovin’ You. Then there are the cuts with guest vocalists, You’re My Thrill by Jay Goreney and Claire Sidney featuring an incredible Anita Baker and Love TKO by Eddie Gap Noble Jr., Cecil Womack and Linda Womack, featuring Ruben Studdard. The latter is a tribute to the late Teddy Pendergrass and Studdard here is proof that American Idol can also discover soulful jazz singers.

The other cuts are Let’s Touch The Sky, Gentle Giant (For Hank) and Golden Faders composed by Bob James; 3rd Degree and Above And Beyond by Chuck Loeb; Pineapple Getaway by Harvey Mason; and A Night In Rio by East and Tom Keane.

Don’t miss out on this one.

Still on current jazz releases. Here is another album that you should not fail to check out. It is by the sax player of the moment in the U.S. of A. and Europe, the Danish born Michael Lington. He has a new CD out that is simply titled Pure. And that is indeed his sound, pure effortless blowing, that is also youthful and funky.

I think of Lington’s style as effortless. He is very good and does not seem to be trying to be good at all. Also a big plus for Michael is that he has this flair for writing pretty, commercial melodies for his jaunty sax solos. The resulting music as presented in Pure is great for both long drives and dancing. Watch out Kenny G.

Pure by Lington includes Roadtrip featuring ex-Fourplay guitarist Lee Ritenour, which is certainly the best of the batch. This is a great attention-grabber that perks up your ears in anticipation of the other cuts. 

There are also The Serenade; Playtime feat. Jeff Golub; Lower East Side; Shotgun feat. Michael Bolton; Like Old Times feat. Brian Culbertson and Ray Parker Jr.; Lovely Day; Movin’ On feat. Paul Jackson Jr.; Come On Over; and A Simpler Time feat. Jonathan Butler.

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