Archives for posts with tag: Fourplay

Album Review: Silver, Fourplay (Concord Music Group, November 2015)

Fourplay_SilverFourplay has been writing and recording contemporary jazz for twenty-five years. The aptly named new album, Silver, celebrates this anniversary with ten new tracks penned by various members of the band, including leader Bob James.

Fourplay has often been classified as smooth jazz. Their music is easy-going, melodic, and simply arranged. A quartet of masters on their instruments, Fourplay needs no other accoutrements. Silver features the solo guitar work of Chuck Loeb on most tracks. “Quicksilver,” in particular, is a pacey number with a great hook and lush vocalizations reminiscent of Pat Metheny.

The album has a range of up and downtempo numbers. “Mine” is an example of the latter, offering a simple melody carried by James’ piano. “Horace” is a more straight-ahead jazz arrangement, an ode to jazz pianist Horace Silver.

It’s ironic that a milestone anniversary like the 25th has traditionally been marked by silver, one of our most tarnishable metals. Fourplay’s Silver glistens all the same.

The Players: Bob James (Keyboards), Harvey Mason (Drums), Chuck Loeb (Guitar), Nathan East (Bass Guitar)

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Concert Review: Incognito, Detroit Opera House, April 4 2015

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Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, on stage with Incognito at the Detroit Opera House (April 4, 2015)

I’ve been listening to Incognito’s recorded music for about 25 years and they consistently qualify as my favourite band, my favourite music, and the best group creating new music today. Seeing them live has always been a dream of sorts. For this year’s tour, egged on by my sister, I finally made it happen. We saw Incognito’s short but quality set on a triple bill at the Detroit Opera House on April 4, 2015.

Incognito had a one hour set in between two other well-known ensembles from the smooth jazz realm: Hiroshima and fOURPLAY. Both acts demonstrated strong songwriting, musicianship, and a love for performance. fOURPLAY, in particular, was a pleasure to watch for a couple of reasons. First, they are talented musicians who play together with the cohesion you would expect from a band with their longevity. Second, because two living legends were on stage in leader and pianist Bob James and drummer Harvey Mason. Chuck Loeb on guitar and Nathan East on bass guitar were virtuosos of equal calibre.

But this post is really about Incognito.

One of the most remarkable things about their performance was the setlist itself. Staying in tune with the smooth jazz tone of the evening, Incognito chose to weight their selections with older material, mostly from 1992’s Tribes, Vibes, & Scribes (Phonogram) and 1994’s Positivity (UMG Recordings). With such a short set, they squeezed only one track from their most recent album, Amplified Soul (Shanachi, 2014). Paying respects to Detroit’s musical pedigree, they included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s As, sung with relish by Tony Momrelle.

Incognito Playlist (from memory)

  1. L’Arc En Ciel De Miles
  2. I See the Sun
  3. Roots (Back to a Way of Life)
  4. I Love What You Do For Me
  5. Still a Friend of Mine
  6. Colibri
  7. Deep Waters
  8. As
  9. Everyday

Maysa joined the band for “I Love What You Do for Me” and subsequent songs. She brought her magic to the songs she originally recorded with the band, including free-wheeling scatting on “Colibri” with the incredible range she is known for.

With precious little time, some of the songs were played at a slightly higher tempo than their recorded versions. This kept things moving and jammed more great music into the set.

After the show, we were fortunate enough to meet leader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, vocalist Tony Momrelle, and sound engineer Chris Lewis. Bluey was gracious with his time and sincerely thankful for our patronage through the years. It was a warm meeting and one I’ll cherish because of how much Incognito’s music has meant to me through the decades.

 

The Players: Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick (guitar); Matt Cooper (keyboards); Maysa Leak (vocals); Tony Momrelle (vocals); Vanessa Haynes (vocals); Katie Leone (vocals); Francis Hylton (bass); Sid Gauld (trumpet); Jamie Anderson (sax/flute); Trevor Mires (trombone); Francesco Mendolia (drums); João Caetano (percussion)

 

Playlist: Harvey Mason – Jazz’s tightest drummer

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Harvey Mason

We all have our ‘go to’ answers when someone asks, “who’s your favourite drummer?” My mind always goes to the rock genre after which it takes about 0.3 seconds to arrive at Keith Moon (Bonham and Peart are a close second and third). But if asked who my favourite jazz drummer was, I’d probably run through my relatively short mental Rolodex and offer up Art Blakey, mostly because Buddy Rich is too predictable and Gene Krupa was more known for big band than modern jazz.

However, I’ve recently discovered the man behind the drum kit in many of my favourite jazz and jazz fusion recordings. Now I have my stock answer:

Harvey Mason is my favourite jazz drummer.

To celebrate his breadth and illuminate an astounding career (still in progress), I thought I’d share a short playlist.

    1. Donald Byrd, Street Lady, Flight Time (Blue Note, 1973)
    2. Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters, Watermelon Man (Columbia, 1973)+
    3. Grover Washington Jr., A Secret Place, Love Makes it Better (Kudu, 1976)*
    4. Donald Byrd, Stepping into Tomorrow, Stepping into Tomorrow (Blue Note, 1975)
    5. Bobbi Humphrey, Blacks and Blues, Harlem River Drive (Blue Note, 1973)
    6. George Benson, Breezin’, Breezin’ (Warner Bros., 1976)
    7. Harvey Mason, Earthmover, K.Y. and the Curve (Arista, 1976)*
    8. Harvey Mason, Funk in a Mason Jar, Til You Take My Love (Arista, 1977)*+
    9. Bob James, Three, Westchester Lady (CTI, 1976)
    10. Fourplay, Esprit de Four, Sonnymoon (Concord Music, 2012)

*Song co-written by Mason; +Song arranged by Mason

Track 1 is Donald Byrd’s “Flight Time,” which features Mason in what I think is one of the greatest jazz drum lines ever. Like the other Mizell Brothers’ produced tracks on this list (nos. 4 & 5), Mason provides a tight and driving backdrop to an easy going groove.

As if working with Byrd and the Mizells wasn’t impressive enough, in the same year Mason also appeared on Herbie Hancock’s seminal album, Head Hunters. Not only is he responsible for the steady hand we hear on the monster jazz/funk fusion hit, “Chamaeleon” but he also arranged and performed on “Watermelon Man,” track 2 of our tour. Mason brought innovative funk treatments to the song, which had been in Hancock’s repertoire for 10 years before this most famous version was recorded.

Continuing his association with those who would become synonymous with jazz fusion and jazz-funk, Mason appeared on Grover Washington Jr.’s classic, Mister Magic. Track 3 on my playlist is a lesser known track from Mason’s stint with Washington: “Love Makes it Better.” Mason penned this song, which suits both his and Washington’s style. Mason’s rhythm track grounds the song, allowing the Washington to soar freely in his solos.

Tracks 4 & 5 are from the golden era of Larry and Fonce Mizell at Blue Note Records. Donald Byrd’s “Stepping into Tomorrow” and Bobbi Humphrey’s “Harlem River Drive” are both classic Mizell Brothers tunes. One of the reasons they endure today is because of Mason’s performance. “Stepping into Tomorrow,” with its menacing bassline, rolls along with the Mizell’s lush arrangements filling in the spaces. The song’s foundation is Mason’s flawless and relentless rhythm track. On “Harlem River Drive,” Mason does what great drummers do most of the time, which is play well without being noticed.

George Benson’s classic recording of the Bobby Womack song, “Breezin'” is track 6. It’s hard to find a more iconic track from the seventies. Moving away from more traditional jazz or jazz-funk arrangements, George Benson broke new ground with this release, crossing over into pop whilst applying jazz instrumentation. Again, Mason’s playing underpins Benson’s melodic guitar lines and keeps the listener engaged throughout the nearly six minute track.

earthmoverMason’s solo career is as long and distinguished as his time as a sideman. The next two tracks come from an era of soulful funk and disco which saw Mason branch out into popular music with vocals and higher production values. Tracks 7 & 8, “K.Y. and the Curve” and “Til You Take My Love” are joyful tracks incorporating the best from that era, including great string arrangements, funk-inspired guitar lines, and ensemble vocals (including Mason himself on “K.Y. and the Curve”).

masonjarTrack 9 is Bob James’ broadly recognizable, “Westchester Lady,” another anthem from the 1970’s. Mason’s timing is impeccable, interplaying with James’ stacatto keyboards and his punchy horn section.

Closing the playlist is a track that returns us to the jazz fusion genre, which Mason has helped define through the decades. Fourplay’s “Sonnymoon” (track 10) is more straight ahead jazz than much of their repertoire. Mason’s playing is as tight as ever, despite having just become a ‘senior citizen’ at 65 when this track was released in 2012.

Mason’s career continues today. He will be recording a new CD this year under his “Chamaeleon Project” monicker.

Who’s your favourite jazz drummer?

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