Journey by Fourplay – reviewed by Chris Mann




There can be very few people reading this who aren't familiar with Fourplay.  To jog your memory, it's a classy collective which brings the talents of Bob James, Larry Carlton, Nathan East and Harvey Mason together.  Why not read my review of Heartfelt to get yourself in the mood for a review of their ninth CD from 2004? 

We’re used to Fourplay covering classic songs and I’m not sure they’ve ever done it as well as on Sting’s Fields of Gold.  There are minimal vocals but the beauty of the original is conveyed so well, that’s not an issue.  It washes over you… Play Around It has a more hip-hop beat with phat bass and a whispered half-rap courtesy of Nathan East.  Carlton’s clean, bluesy guitar weaves in and out, just like in the good old Crusaders days. 

From Day One sounds more like “old” Fourplay and the urgent piano riff leads into a very melodic midtempo piece where Harvey Mason’s drumming – particularly the trademark tom-tom sound – comes to the fore.  If you wonder what I mean by “trademark tom-tom sound” listen to the Brothers Johnson’s jaw-dropping “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now”.  Carlton’s electric blues are a treat and this song has a nice live feel.  Nathan East delivers a more conventional vocal on the pretty title track.  It’s slow and gentle and reminds me of Eric Clapton’s “Change The World”.  Given East’s long-time association with ‘old slow hand’, maybe that’s not surprising.  Whatever, it’s a lovely song. 

The muted samba sound of Mason’s Rozil is so gentle, it’s almost not there.  It’s classic Fourplay and less is more.  East’s melodic high-register bass solo delights, as does Bob James’ lazy doodling on the piano.  These guys always make good music sound so easy.  I love the offhand finger snaps and bluesy guitar that kick off the strolling Cool Train.  I took this CD on vacation to the Canary Islands recently and most days I couldn’t get this song out of my head.  Who said the tunes on this album are forgettable??  This is every bit as lovely as the sublime Blues Force from “Yes Please!” 

A good strong piano sets the pace on the measured and complex Avalabop.  Mason’s cymbal work and rimshots tick away and a mellow, smoky jazz number unfolds. Carlton takes centre stage, followed by Bob James and then by East with his “scat’n’slap” piece.  All solos are superb.  My favourite song is the gently funky Firehouse Chill – this is what it says is: seriously cool and it’s a shout out to Firehouse Recording where part of the CD was recorded. The bass bounces along and the guitar is tasty.  When I wasn’t humming Cool Train on vacation, I was humming this.  The high scat vocal isn’t too hard to follow – and that’s the secret of writing a feelgood song.  My girlfriend’s just started humming it – well done guys! 

The atmospheric intro to Departure is reminiscent of and old Yes song, well OK then, the middle section of “Close to the Edge” (I can’t believe I said that) but it opens out into something almost classical.  It’s certainly elegant and Carlton’s acoustic guitar is set in a perfect context.  The way the sound swells is deeply romantic.  Bob James, take a bow!  Dancing cymbals introduce the jazzy 147 4th Street and ironically Larry Carlton sounds very like his old buddy Lee Ritenour on this song.  That is to say, he sounds great – just a little different, with gorgeous chords and that electric sound is warmer than when he’s going for that blues “burn”.  Ah, what a treat it would be to hear Carlton and Rit duet on this one… 

When I reviewed Fourplay's last CD, I was concerned that, despite the astounding musicianship, there was nothing that I could sing while I was walking down the street.  I'm used to singing intricate things - I seem to have spent most of the 90's singing tunes by Chick Corea's Elektric Band - it's just that the music didn't get under my skin.

That's changed now and I'm drawn to Fourplay's distinctive brand of jazz as much as I ever was.  All four performers contribute songs and there are some real gems among them.  My promo copy of “Journey” arrived months before I put pen to paper.  I wasn't reluctant to write about it - I was just enjoying it so much, it became a prized part of my collection.  Yes, I went out and bought it and that was the trigger to share my love of it with you...



  RCA Bluebird – 61358-2   Producers – Fourplay, Marcel East