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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Esprit de Four

Heads Up HUI 33738-02



1. December Dream
2. Firefly
3. Venus
4. Sonnymoon
5. Put Our Hearts Together (Instrumental Version)
6. All I Wanna Do
7. Logic of Love
8. Esprit de Four
9. Sugoi
10. Put Our Hearts Together (Vocal Track)

Bob James - Keyboards
Nathan East - Bass, vocals
Chuck Loeb - Guitars, synths
Harvey Mason - Drums, percussion, vibes, synths


Fourplay has been around for more than 20 years, and their personnel has remained stable - except for their guitarist. Their first guitarst was Lee Ritenour; then he was replaced by Larry Carlton; and now Chuck Loeb has filled the guitar chair since 2010. The group's direction owes a lot to founder Bob James, who continues his habit of mixing different styles to create what might be categorised as easy-listening jazz. That is meant to be praise rather than censure, since the group has always exhibited first-class technique and a throughly musical mentality.

Chuck Loeb's arrrival is important because he has made Fourplay sound very like Pat Metheny's famous quartets with Lyle Mays: melodic as well as muscular. If you like vintage Metheny (and I do), you'll enjoy this album. The Metheny connection is clear right from the first track - December Dream - which includes wordless vocals in unison with the instruments, very much like some Pat Metheny recordings. Bob James and Chuck Loeb contribute radiant solos. Nathan East's bass and vocals plus Harvey Mason's drumming are faultless.

Wordless vocals are also present in Firefly, a neat piece of jazz-fusion which has a punchy bass guitar solo by Nathan. Harvey Mason's Venus is slow and thoughtful, with a masterly guitar solo by Chuck Loeb. Here and elsewhere, Bob James's keyboards somehow manage to float etherially above the quartet.

Driven along by the drums and bass, Sonnymoon is a nice start-and-stop composition by Chuck Loeb.

Bob James wrote Put Our Hearts Together as a tribute to the victims of the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. The instrumental version poignantly evokes the sadness of the tragedy, but this is followed by a more optimistic rhythmic section. The vocal version has lyrics added by Bob James' daughter Hilary, beautifully sung by Japanese vocalist Seiko Matsuda. Bob James also composed Sugoi, which manages to incorporate echoes of Japan in the jazz-fusion style music.

All I Wanna Do is a fairly conventional love song lifted out of the ordinary by Nathan East's soaring vocals. Chuck Loeb's Logic of Love returns us to the Metheny resemblance, with the guitar prominent, backed by wordless vocals (or is that whistling I hear?). The title-track again has a prominent guitar but also a choral backing from Kenny Mason and the Voices of Praise Choir.

I would be tempted to call the music on this album "smooth", except that the phrase "smooth jazz" has taken on the meaning of background music that hardly deserves listening. The music here is certainly smooth, in that the four musicians interweave so skilfully that the listener is carried along on waves of melody. So we have impeccable musicianship, gorgeous tunes and perfect recorded sound, which make this CD one of my favourites for the year - and one I shall play over and over again.

Tony Augarde

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