Chasing Music: Fourplay

The adventure continues, and if ever was I in the mood for something explosive for Fourth of July weekend, screw fireworks – the Blue Note with Fourplay is the way to do it.

Even as I was getting my shoes on, I knew very well that tonight was going to be different. Bob James was a firm reminder in his own right why I adore the piano and its sound; he speaks with his hands, for the lack of better expression, and he speaks with a casual, engaging melody. Nathan East’s kicky bass and smart vocals, Harvey Mason’s drums that never miss a beat, were all complemented with Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton. But now, things have changed, and the guitar chair is occupied by none other than Chuck Loeb.

Yes, Chuck Loeb, one of my very favorite guitars.

On one hand, it surprised the hell out of me, but on the other hand, not really. The past two guitarists were Lee Ritenour – easygoing and intricate – and Larry Carlton, versatile and echoing a bit of Les Paul. In fact, I strongly recommend you check out the two in the Larry & Lee album; it comes up quite often in Pandora for me, and I like the combination of those two very well. Lee Ritenour matched up with Bob James’s involving patterns on the keys; Larry brought a slightly funkier quality to the group. And Chuck Loeb can be anywhere you need him to be: from bossa nova, to smooth, to intricate smooth-jazz style, to sharp electric fusion. Now, how would that combine with the rest of the Fourplay Gents?

I was sure as hell not going to pass up the chance to find out. I had the tickets reserved since May.

You should also know this about Blue Note of NY: it is very small and gets crowded in a short hurry. A table that should not seat more than six people seats eight. The tables are close to the stage, so if you’re at center, you have the very best seats in the house. That or the front-and-center balcony, which is a platform above the general seating level. Though tickets are reserved, the seating is first-come first-serve, and if you arrive an hour and a half in advance, then you stand the chance to get prime seats.

I got stageside seating, drumside end. The piano was situated behind a Plexiglas screen, the stage staff was setting up the mics, the guitar and the bass, and the drum set occupied the right quarter.

My expectations were more than met, and Chuck Loeb showed his NYC flair in stereo (no pun intended, I assure!). Third Degree, a track from an upcoming album due to be out in August, was very much reminiscent of some tracks I heard out of Presence, and as Nathan East put it, “Chuck came with it.” Indeed – that is pure New Yorker “whatcha lookin’ at?” attitude, translated into the strings of an electric guitar.

Nathan East, a brilliant bassist, revealed his vocal talent, and made me think back to Capetown. His vocals on that track are nothing short of lush; captivating in that haunting, stay-in-head quality. On stage, his voice and the bass were note perfect, complementing the flow of the melody, and getting on with Bob James behind the Plexiglas, occasionally pairing his piano with a whistled tune.

And then there’s Harvey Mason. Now, I don’t know what about this guy reminds me of Nick Colionne. I just do not know why, but the moment I saw him with his shades on, for some reason I clicked it with Nick. But that little meandering aside, his hands were a blur. He is right up there with some of the most skilled drummers I’ve seen in my time chasing music; Omar Hakim and Harvey Mason are damn near on the same page. And man, can Mason hit. Together with Chuck, they ramped up the energy to a fever pitch.

Needless to say that the show received a standing ovation, and that I left smiling.

Now, I will not lie, you don’t get much better in NY than the Blue Note, but the overwhelming crampedness of the space does infringe on the overall energy of the show. I never underestimate the club’s popularity; they have a great reputation for consistently bringing in great artists, but the space could be managed much better. On the other hand – if the Blue Note is packed, which it was tonight, then it is knowledge like no other that smooth jazz is alive, well and kickin’.

I’m quite impressed by Chuck’s performance with Fourplay as an overall. I always enjoyed the group’s sound, often finding it mellifluous, well-balanced and varied. Ultralight from Energy is nothing like its name; Bob James and Larry Carlton pull out their inner funk without taking away from the general easygoing mood. Sebastian, from the same album, is very strongly influenced by classical; I find it to be a melody that would’ve done well to fit in with a royal court palace or something along those lines. However, Third Degree during this concert gave it away big time: the new Fourplay sound will arrive with a heaping side dish of attitude, Loeb style.

Now that, ladies and gents, I like very much, yes I do.

Next on the Musical Menu: Spyro Gyra on the Spirit Cruises!

K.G.

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