Fifteen years of Fourplay seems too good to be true -- yet with FOURPLAY X the world's top smooth jazz ensemble makes clear that the pleasure is just beginning. Scheduled to release on August 8, with radio airplay kicking in on the Fourth of July, FOURPLAY X, the supergroup's landmark tenth album, marks a shift from recent experiments in spontaneous composition and tight deadlines to focus more fully on writing and arrangement as groundwork for elegant improvisation.
Unlike previous projects, FOURPLAY X began through exchanges of MP3 demos between all four members. The magic of Fourplay is based on the interactions between keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East, guitarist Larry Carlton, and drummer Harvey Mason, each a pop music icon in his own right. By beginning their creative exchanges earlier than ever on this project, long before they actually gathered in the studio, they insured that FOURPLAY X would be a milestone in their catalog. The results can be heard in the intricacy of James' alternately breezy and forceful opening track, "Turnabout," in Carlton's bluesy, Wes Montgomery- inflected "Cinnamon Sugar," in East's exotic and airy "Eastern Sky," in Mason's straight-ahead groovefest "Kid Zero" -- in the polish and conception of each track on FOURPLAY X, making this their most fully conceived group effort to date. They bring the same qualities to the table for the one cover, and the first single, on the album: "My Love's Leavin,'" written and recorded originally by Steve Winwood and performed here with Michael McDonald. From the opening notes -- a percolating synthesizer figure that pays tribute to Winwood's sound -- through the searing, smoky vocal, "My Love's Leavin'" shows what a brilliant band can achieve when working in tandem with a singer of McDonald's caliber.
All four members fill their calendars with sessions and solo projects, but it remains a priority to keep Fourplay alive as their only true group endeavor, with each partner an equal contributor. "It's unique in that we come together as friends as well as musicians who are at the top of our game," explains East. "I don't think I've had a day off this year, and the other guys are just as busy. But we always make the time to get together -- to be honest, mainly because it's fun."
Fourplay debuted with a splash in 1991: Their self-titled debut album sold more than one million copies and lodged for 33 weeks at the top of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts. The follow-up, Between the Sheets, reached number one, earned gold status, and was nominated for a Grammy in 1993. They went three-for-three in 1995 with their third release, Elixir, which also hit number one and stayed on the charts for more than a year and a half. And, as if to save time, their fourth album, 4, entered the charts at number one.
This early momentum builds with FOURPLAY X as the group begins a marathon tour that starts with Europe in July; highlights include headline dates at the Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals. In late July they continue to Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan, where a highlight includes an appearance as the only jazz artists featured at the Udo Music Festival, alongside Santana, Jeff Beck, the Doobie Brothers, and other rock legends. The U.S. tour begins on August 19 and 20, with appearances at the JVC Jazz Festivals in Concord and Los Angeles, California.