Fourplay: Nathan East (vocals, fretless, 5- & 6-string basses); Lee Ritenour (guitar, synthesizer, programming); Harvey Mason (jew's harp, marimba, drums, bongos, congas); Bob James (keyboards, synthesizer, programming).
Additional personnel: Phil Collins, Patti Austin, Peabo Bryson (vocals); Ken Freeman, Harvey Mason, Jr. (programming); Heather Mason, Vern Arnold, Cisco (background vocals).
ELIXIR was nominated for a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance.
Fourplay are the reigning champions of urbane sophistication, bringing a sublime sense of form and interplay to the contemporary jazz genre. Taken as individuals, Bob James, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East and Harvey Mason are among the most persuasive, engaging improviser/arrangers in all of popular music, with scores of hit albums behind them as producers, leaders and sidemen.
Taken as a whole, Fourplay elevate the quiet storm aesthetic to a new level, with a deep, slinky groove and an innate sense of the appropriate instrumental color. Consider how the title track sets the tone for the remainder of ELIXIR. Distant keyboard colors swirl about as West and Mason enter with a phat, pliable, bottomless groove. Guitarist Ritenour snakes in and out with latin effects and subtle chords, as keyboardist James essays the theme; the guitar soon returns for the chorus with a darkly articulated, romantic secondary theme. The mentholated instrumental jaunts serve only to deepen the groove, as Mason's crisp backbeat floats up to meet them.
The production values on ELIXIR are phenomenal, thanks to the larger than life soundstage of engineer Don Murray. The bottom end is enormous but clear as a bell, every electronic nuance captured with the transparency and detail of an acoustic instrument--listen to the swirling interplay between bass and keyboards, Ritenour's Wes Montgomery-styled solo lines and octaves, and Mason's propulsive syncopations on the dreamy "Dream Come True," the funkified "Play Lady Play" and the latin R&B swing of "Magic Carpet Ride." Fourplay also take their soulful synthesis of jazz and R&B to the very edge of pop acceptance with some tender ballads. Phil Collins is featured on his own "Why Can't It Wait Until Morning," the super-duo of Peabo Bryson and Patti Austin shine on "The Closer I Get To You," and bassist East takes a couple of engaging vocal turns. For fans of the quiet storm, ELIXIR is irresistable.