They’re not the legends of jazz for nothing, and for all you fools out there thinking I made a typo, look them up and thank me later. :)
Usually, they’re in NYC around December, and whenever they are in town, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that 1. the house will be full, and 2. the music will be prime and 3. I’m there front and center. This year is no exception, with their 25th anniversary tour and album release, the album being very appropriately titled Silver. And by now, it’s pretty damned obvious: I love jazz.
Here’s also the thing: because of all I’m doing work-wise and otherwise, I don’t rest. Even the big cruise I take every year is something I have come to regard as work. And like it as not, no matter how much I enjoy all that I do, it’s wearisome. No one can carry on a constant hustle without wanting to cut loose and not hustle for a moment. It’s just a matter of being human; how much more can a human being take before they hit their limit?
I often say that jazz music has been the only love affair of mine that ever brought me any good. It sounds amusing, but the joke factor of it is only about 30%. Some of the best parts of my life have come about as a direct consequence of me traveling to jazz shows across the country (and our of the country, and meeting and working with jazz musicians.
I always enjoy the music. It’s without question. But consistently, Fourplay has been the only group whose sound never fails when it comes to, if I can borrow the Web expression, hit me right in the feels.
There’s just something very bright about the composing style of Fourplay. It’s not as straight ahead-ish as Spyro Gyra. It’s not as fusion-infused as Special EFX. Not as semi-whimsical as Acoustic Alchemy. But it’s bright, versatile, and in their catalog of 25 years’ worth of stellar musical work, you are bound to find something that just hits at you, even if jazz isn’t your genre of choice.
Fourplay has had a consistent good track record as far as impressing me. I’m just one person, yes. But in every album I got since Energy landed in my lap as a Christmas gift in 2011, I have always encountered something, be it one track or all of them, that made me stop short and ask, “What am I hearing and where has this been all my life?”
Esprit du Four is such an example. Nearly every track is a smashing success. Personal recommendation is “December Dream”, which basically sounds like a modernized classical minuet and makes Bob James an undisputed genius for the brilliantly simple arrangement of it. “Sugoi” translates to “amazing” from Japanese, and the Eastern influence of the piece definitely earns the epithet – in both languages.
So now, cue Silver. I did not get the album until after the show, but when the guys launched into Silver Streak last night, I left my jaw on the floor. Being an atheist, what I’m about to say is completely incongruent with my nature, but truly, listening to that piece, especially live, was the closest thing to a religious experience for me. It’s a piece where you just close your eyes, tilt your head back, and let yourself just drown in the sound of it. Every note is exactly where it’s supposed to be. Cascade of sound, style, texture, and raw emotion, and it’s like nothing I’ve heard before. It has been a while since I had a piece of music make me lose complete track of where I was, who I was sitting next to, what day/time it was… But if this is Fourplay’s new material, then they just proved without question that they will be around for another 25 years.
For a run-down workaholic recovering from The Annual Respiratory Crud and desperately craving sleep and two days of nothing to do, last night’s concert cured a lot of ills. Nathan East’s voice has been the hallmark of the Fourplay style through the decades, and it is still every bit as iconic as back when Between the Sheets came out, and hearing him during “Chant”, which is a track I’ve heard countless times both back when CD101.9 would play it, as well as in live show, is still something that never fails to balm over an exhausted spirit.
Also really helps that all members of Fourplay have great track records as solo artists as well. And while yes, Nathan East’s debut only dropped last year, but of all four of them, it’s his work that I appreciate most. I spent most of my teens on Chuck Loeb and Bob James’s solo projects, Harvey Mason’s Chameleon album is a lesson in Versatility 101, but Nathan East just has that voice, both in terms of sound and lyrics. It’s that distinctive. You know it immediately. And you always stop and listen, regardless of whether or not he’s solo or with Fourplay, because, really, it just has that effect.
I needed last night to remind me why I do what I do. Why I stuck with jazz as my primary genre of music, and why I continue to work with jazz musicians, why I photograph them, why I travel to see them… I needed last night to remind me that there is always going to be that moment where a sound is just so engrossing, so rich, colorful, and just good, that it will remind me of why I fell in love with jazz in the first place.
Sometimes, all you need is Fourplay. Well, that’s all I need, in any case.
As I said, jazz music is the only love affair of mine that brought me any good, and it’s because it continues to bring me good that it lasted for this long and continues to.
Video: Nathan East, “Finally Home”, from his self-titled debut.