For two decades, the contemporary jazz quartet known as Fourplay has enjoyed consistent artistic and commercial success by grafting elements of R&B, pop and a variety of other sounds to their unwavering jazz foundations. In the course of a dozen recordings – six of which have climbed to the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Album charts – the supergroup has continued to explore the limitless dimensions and permutations of jazz while at the same time appealing to a broad mainstream audience.
The Fourplay story begins in 1990, with keyboardist Bob James, who had already established himself as a formidable figure in keyboard jazz – not just as an instrumentalist but as a composer and arranger as well – with solo recordings dating as far back as the mid 1960s. In 1990, James reunited with his old friend, session drummer, producer, composer & recording artist Harvey Mason (Herbie Hancock, Barbra Streisand, Notorious Big), during the recording of James’ Grand Piano Canyon album. Also involved in the project were guitarist Lee Ritenour (Sergio Mendes) and bassist/vocalist Nathan East (Barry White, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins).
The original lineup of James/Ritenour/East/Mason stayed together for three successive albums, including Elixir (1994), a set that features some high-profile guest vocalists: Phil Collins, Patti Austin and Peabo Bryson. East also delivers some noteworthy vocal contributions on Elixir, and has continued to do so throughout most of Fourplay’s subsequent studio outings.
Ritenour, whose guitar work in tandem with James’ keyboards served as the cornerstone of the early Fourplay sound, left the lineup in the mid-1990s. Chuck Loeb made his debut with the quartet on Let’s Touch The Sky, released in October 2010. The album also includes thrilling performances by guest vocalists Anita Baker and Ruben Studdard. The infusion of new blood into the Fourplay lineup created an opportunity to bring an even higher level of energy and inspiration into a band that is already known for taking chances and pushing the limits of contemporary jazz.
The group’s latest recording explores the place where four unique perspectives become a single creative force. That symmetry and creativity are at the heart of Esprit De Four, set for release on September 18, 2012. The CD includes the poignant but hopeful “Put Our Hearts Together,” written by James – with lyrics by his daughter, Hilary James, and vocal featuring Japanese superstar Seiko Matsuda – as a tribute to the victims of the devastating tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.