Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Sometimes you have to shake things up, push a little farther, reach a little higher - even when you're a contemporary jazz foursome that's been operating at the top of its collective game for two decades. After twenty years and a dozen albums, in an industry that has undergone sweeping transformations in the past decade, Fourplay knows that the only thing that's certain, in music or any other business, is change. The latest proof of that axiom is the new face in their lineup - that of guitarist Chuck Loeb, who makes his compelling debut with the quartet on Let's Touch The Sky.
Loeb completes the four-man crew that also includes the band's founding members: keyboardist Bob James, bassist/vocalist Nathan East and drummer/percussionist Harvey Mason. Let's Touch The Sky also includes stirring performances by guest vocalists Anita Baker and Ruben Studdard. The infusion of new blood into the Fourplay lineup creates an opportunity to bring an even newer level of energy and inspiration into a band that is already known for taking chances and pushing the limits of contemporary jazz. "All four of us have been in this business long enough to know that there's always pressure to compromise, and we don't want to do that," says James. "We don't want to end up in the middle of the pack. We always aim to be leaders, and take the music to another level and raise the standards higher. I think the music on this new record, thanks in large part to Chuck's early contributions - and to the ongoing team spirit of the band as a whole - is very much a reflection of that philosophy."
Loeb, who openly admits to being a fan of Fourplay since their earliest recordings, sees his new membership status as the opportunity of a lifetime. "I want to be a part of the legacy they've built, going all the way back to their first recording and right up to their most recent one," he says. "There's been an incredible level of quality in the musicianship, the writing, the whole sonic palette that they're famous for. I'm excited to be a part of the next step in the evolution of all that." That sense of romanticism combined with optimism defining the project makes the rhythmic and exotic title track the fitting opener to the set. Written by James, the song sits atop a comfortable Latin groove and showcases the interplay between the keyboardist and his new band mate on acoustic guitar. The follow-up track, Loeb's driving and intense "3rd Degree" is a reference to his role as the third guitarist in the Fourplay saga (the original lineup included Lee Ritenour, who was later replaced by Larry Carlton in the late `90s). The track is built on a syncopated rhythm that allows plenty of room for everyone on hand to stretch out and demonstrate their virtuosity.
Guest vocalists Ruben Studdard and Anita Baker appear on the soulful "Love TKO" and the dreamlike "You're My Thrill," respectively. Studdard was recruited by East, after the two had appeared together in a live performance in Washington, DC. "They were filming a television special," East recalls. "There was a break to reload the cameras, and I just started playing the bass line of `Love TKO.' Ruben stepped up to the microphone to sing, and everyone in the room just stopped. I knew right then that we needed to have him sing this song on a Fourplay record, and when we asked him, he was very much up for it. The whole thing just came together so easily."
Mason, who has held down the groove for Fourplay since the very beginning, says time has done nothing to dull the edge. The band continues to explore new ways to reach for the next level of musicianship and creativity. "Let's Touch The Sky is the perfect title for where we are right now," he says. "In some ways, bringing someone new into the fold has made us a new band. It opens up new opportunities and new potential, and we want to see how high we can take it."
"Let's Touch the Sky is Fourplay's 12th CD since they made their jazz debut in 1991, and it is one of their finest to date. A remarkably smooth collection, this is straight-ahead/classic jazz at its very best.
If you enjoy Fourplay, you will enjoy this lovely collection of fresh material. The jazz is alive, and the performances are filled with verve and intimacy.
There are eleven songs in the collection. "Let's Touch the Sky," "3rd Degree," "More Than a Dream," "Pineapple Getaway," "I'll Still Be Lovin' You," "Gentle Giant (For Hank)," "A Night in Rio," "Love TKO," "Above and Beyond," "Golden Faders," and "You're My Thrill" which features Anita Baker.
Bob James is in top form on keyboards, and he shines on such songs as "Golden Faders" where his unique piano stylings are revealed in great detail. In fact, each musician in this jazz collection shines with their great stylings. Each performance is perfectly crafted and makes for repeated listening enjoyment at each playing!
It is good that Heads Up with the Concord Music Group bring such unique groups and listening enjoyment to jazz fans. Fourplay is one of the very finest groups on the contemporary jazz scene performing today. This is definitely their most perfect CD to date.
Highly recommended. Nice and Easy. Perfect!" -Jazzreview
"Like the well-oiled precision machine that it is, Fourplay's latest cements its reputation as a one of the genre's best-ever contemporary jazz bands. While some of its peers are recycling and refitting every new trend that comes down the pike, Fourplay maintains its mastery with modern touches and classic musicianship that will keep fans happy to ....Touch and absorb this bit of ... Sky over and over again. Highly recommended." -Soul Tracks
"Now approaching its third decade as a top contender in the smooth jazz field, Fourplay prides itself in being a band without a leader. Each player shares in the composing, arranging and producing of their material. As Bob James remarks, 'We always aim to be leaders, to take the music to another level and raise the standards higher.'" -Voice of America
"A smooth jazz album that offers a relaxing and enjoyable collection of songs like 'More Than A Dream,' 'Pineapple Getaway,' 'I'll Still Be Lovin' You,' 'Love TKO,' and 'You're My Thrill.'" -Hill Rag (Wash, DC)
"The move about which everyone in contemporary jazz has been buzzing - the Loeb addition - to see how it would affect this iconic group, has presented itself in a seamless, flawless continuation of the Fourplay adventure. Let's Touch the Sky is not only an invitation from the group to itself but to its fans, as well, for the band's canvas continues to grow as wide and as vast as that sky. This album is proof positive that they stand ready to go as far as it grows." -The Smooth Jazz Ride
"...Fourplay has overall produced another winning project. And their undisputable virtuosity still establishes them as one of the few contemporary jazz icons." -The Urban Music Scene
"Fourplay will release its twelfth CD, Let's Touch The Sky, on October 25 and although the term 'super-group' is often overused it has never been more appropriate than when applied to this wonderful collective." -Smooth Jazz Therapy
"One of the premier contemporary jazz ensembles is Fourplay, a band with over 20 years and a dozen albums behind them! They welcome guitarist Chuck Loeb to the fold in his debut along with original members Bob James (p), Nathan East (b, vocals) and Harvey Mason (d, perc)...Fourplay has lost nothing with time and Loeb fits right in as they once again deliver a strong set!" -O's Place Jazz
"After 20 years, they still set the standard for contemporary, smooth jazz that's always a joy to have around. Snappier than the usual bizjazz, Fourplay doesn't tease...Well done by pros you can trust." -Midwest Record
"Fourplay many not have invented smooth jazz, but it remains the class of the field, always pushing the idiom forward in both its jazz and pop directions. The quartet's fine 11th outing is sparked by new guitarist Chuck Loeb, who melds seamlessly with the group's signature sonic palette and superior writing and arranging." -Bass Player
"Let's Touch The Sky is a juggernaut of contemporary music that sets a sophisticated mood and creates a sonic environment that vibrates with vitality (i.e. East's elastic solo over the shifting rhythm of 'Golden Faders'). After 20 years and a dozen albums, Fourplay is still the leader." -ICON Monthly
"Let's Touch the Sky is Fourplay's 12th CD since they made their jazz debut in 1991, and it is one of their finest to date. A remarkably smooth collection, this is straight-ahead/classic jazz at its very best. If you enjoy Fourplay, you will enjoy this lovely collection of fresh material. The jazz is alive, and the performances are filled with verve and intimacy....Highly recommended. Nice and Easy. Perfect!" -JazzReview
"It would be incorrect to say that not much has changed Fourplay's sound since they began recording together in 1991. That said, while these musicians - who were all successful artists individually - have continued to evolve, as a group they've stayed remarkably focused on what they do best: play elegant, seamless, contemporary jazz with a light sexy groove...the band is firing on all cylinders, making this a fine entry in 2010's contemporary jazz oeuvre." -All Music
"Anita Baker and Ruben Studdard add vocals to the instrumental prowess of smooth-jazz supergroup." -Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
"Four extremely talented men, a lifelong calling to create eclectic melodies, a commitment to remaining steadfast to a musical standard established over two decades ago with a mix of deep love for creating appealing sounds and you have Let's Touch The Sky. It is the next CD from Fourplay on Heads Up International scheduled to hit the stores on Monday, October 25. The group has once again created a series of memorable tracks that are sure to bring together fans of every persuasion." -Cuisine Noir
"On the new Fourplay set Let's Touch The Sky (Heads Up, B), group newcomer Chuck Loeb (guitar) plays off Bob James' keyboards in a call/response fashion sometimes reminiscent of Pat Metheny working with Lyle Mays." -Phila. Daily News
"Fourplay is about as close as the smooth jazz world is going to come to a supergroup...if you want to hear some of the finest contemporary jazz players making melodic, day-enhancing groove-oriented music, touch this." -E-Gear
"Fourplay fans will be happy with this release. Each song features all four members on basically every track. They do not skip a beat with the addition of Loeb on guitar. There are always new classics on each Fourplay disc as well as a couple of surprises. That format has served them well over the years, and they don't get away from it here. Says Harvey Mason, 'In some ways, bringing someone new into the fold has made us a new band. It opens up new opportunities and new potential, and we want to see how high we can take it.' Indeed they continue to climb higher and higher." -SmoothViews
"...this daddy of what's now known as 'contemporary jazz' presents founders Bob James on keyboards, Nathan East on bass and occasional vocals, Harvey Mason on drums and the group's newest addition, Chuck Loeb, replacing Larry Carlton on guitar. Each boasts an impressive résumé as a studio musician and accompanist while perhaps only James and Mason have had notable, nee legendary, front-line success in the jazz world. But together, this foursome produces its very own sound, a tight lock of four like-minded musicians fronted by James' varying keyboards (mostly piano) and the guitarist's mellifluous counterpoint...If they don't quite touch the sky here, they're certainly headed in the right direction." -Sound Insights
"All in all Fourplay should know that in the morning, their fans will still be loving them after hearing Let's Touch The Sky. Check it out." -Sounds of Timeless Jazz
"[Fourplay] came out to dazzle the crowd with a memorable performance heightened by their cohesive musicianship, in other words, these guys were tight! They are all the A list and they sound like it. Playing songs from their yet to be released CD, Let's Touch the Sky, was a real crowd pleaser. The new member, Chuck Loeb, fit in seamlessly with Bob James, Nathan East, and Harvey Mason. Fourplay has touched the sky again with their new release and new member." -Smooth Jazz Notes
"Nathan East, an icon of the past 30 years of bass playing, shines throughout the disc. Nathan shows a mastery over time control in this disc, grooving well while staying firmly on the one. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever seen him play live...Let's Touch The Sky is a great effort from a jazz group that has been around for nearly two decades. To be able to continue to compose and execute music at this level together is a true testament to their musicianship and camaraderie." -Bass Frontiers
"Let's Touch The Sky reaffirms the position of Fourplay as the one true 'super-group' of contemporary jazz and is well worth checking out." -Smooth Jazz Therapy
"What is Fourplay? A supergroup of individual artists who came together 20 years ago, collaborating just about every other year for a collection of songs that combine their talents." -Smooth Jazz Daily
JazzTimes (p.54) - "Once again, Fourplay reminds us that the 'smooth' in smooth jazz doesn't have to be blasphemous. In their hands, 'smooth jazz' never felt as good and true."
Personnel: Nathan East (vocals); Chuck Loeb (guitar); Bob James (keyboards); Harvey Mason, Sr. (drums, percussion).
Recording information: Castle Oaks Studio, Calabasas, CA; Mason Soudn, North Hollywood, CA.
Photographer: Sandrine Lee.
It would be incorrect to say that not much has changed Fourplay's sound since they began recording together in 1991. That said, while these musicians -- who were all successful artists individually -- have continued to evolve, as a group they've stayed remarkably focused on what they do best: play elegant, seamless, contemporary jazz with a light sexy groove. Keyboardist Bob James, drummer/percussionist Harvey Mason, and bassist Nathan East have remained constants but guitarists have come and gone: Chuck Loeb replaces Larry Carlton (who originally replaced founding member Lee Ritenour) for Let's Touch the Sky, Fourplay's 11th recording. James' title track composition kicks things off with a breezy Brazilian groove before strings paint an airy, almost cinematic backdrop. Loeb's "3rd Degree" ups the funk quotient with some hard-grooving guitar, ever-present rolling breaks by Mason, and some knotty synth work. His "Above and Beyond" provides the kind of guitar-led group interactive euphoria usually associated with Pat Metheny. Mason's "Pineapple Getaway" has irresistible synth and Rhodes work by James, but it's Loeb's stellar guitar work that makes this Caribbean-flavored groover one of the set's finest moments. "Gentle Giant," written by James in memory of Hank Jones, features a stellar upright bass solo from East. There are three vocal tracks on the set as well. East takes one on his "I'll Still Be Lovin' You," and Anita Baker lays down a fine one on her reading of "You're My Thrill." The most remarkable one is the deeply soulful, warmly expressive take of Cecil and Linda Womack's "Love TKO" by Ruben Studdard, with some excellent atmospherics provided by James and Mason. Fourplay's formulaic approach is firmly intact on Let's Touch the Sky and the band is firing on all cylinder, making this a fine entry in 2010's contemporary jazz oeuvre. ~ Thom Jurek
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