Since 1991, Fourplay has become one of the most prolific and long-standing groups in contemporary jazz. Originally, the initial make-up of this outstanding array of musicians consisted of pianist Bob James, guitarist Lee Ritenour, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason. But after a run of four albums, Ritenour left the band and was replaced by guitarist Larry Carlton. Although the shift in personnel was a dramatic one, the overall chemistry remained intact. The velvety texture of Fourplay's music has become a recognized trademark by listeners of contemporary jazz. In essence, the energy created by this stellar quartet has established a formula that is highly imitated, but seldom duplicated. Of all the so-called super groups that have been established over the years, which includes The Fantasy Band, The Super Band, as well as The Urban Knights, Fourplay has been the most consistent. For 13 years, they have recorded numerous CD's and toured the world over with their eclectic style of play. On Wednesday, September 22, 2004, their highly developed stylized skills were brought to the stages of Houston's Verizon Theater.
For many jazz connoisseurs and aficionados of Fourplay, the length of time since their last visit to Houston had been long in coming; as such, this was a much anticipated performance. In addition, one of the most significant aspects relating to the group is this fact, each member of Fourplay is an outstanding solo musician in his own right. The most prominent is Bob James, while Nathan East, Larry Carlton and Harvey Mason have all gained accolades as some of the finest musicians around today. When examining their collective, the appearance at The Verizon Theater was a voyeuristic view of musical fortitude. These guys have been playing together for a very long time; therefore, the chemistry they share is formula-driven. Each member of Fourplay serves as a catalyst for the other, while the very essence of their individualized talent creates the excitement they generate in their music. Listening to their many recordings is only one aspect of the group's immense popularity. Their concerts also enhance the panoramic and picturesque jazzscape of what they play.
In the annals of contemporary jazz, Fourplay is considered one of the most interpretive groups around today. During their appearance, they proved beyond the shadow of any doubt they are at the top of their game. For a group that has been around as long as they have, one would expect a loss in popularity or a built-in reduction in intensity. Having been away from Houston as long as Fourplay has, some in the audience did not know what to expect. They were there for an opportunity to see and hear a bit of quality jazz entertainment. But if any of those fears existed and possibly led in that direction, they were quickly extinguished. With piano, keyboards, bass, guitar and drums firmly in the hands of seasoned musicans, contemporary jazz Fourplay style laid waste to any foregone conclusions of questionable performance. Their superb display of artistic excellence from such recordings as 'Yes, Please', 'Four', 'Between the Sheets','Elixir' and 'Fourplay was both mesmerizing and fulfilling. Little was left to the imagination by these guys; however, Fourplay's sphere of musical influence was equivalent to a jazz activated spiritual energy ray of illumination.
In the area of music, with one artist you get a solo performance, with two you get a duo, with three there is a trio and with a quartet comes the artistry of Fourplay. The magical and mystical message that was offered by these guys in support of contemporary jazz in Houston was the stuff of considerable praise on the night of September 22nd. When examining the dynamics of this phenomenon, there is a distinction that must be considered. Fourplay is a smooth jazz radio favorite; however, Larry Carlton's, Nathan East's, Bob James' and Harvey Mason's skills as musicians were finely-tuned well before the advent of the smooth jazz franchise. With that in mind, the continuation of the Fourplay formula that can best be described as contemporary jazz of a very unique flavor should never be isolated as something generic. In their purest sense, this group is firmly entrenched as one of America's most unique bands. For Houstonians, this was a rare opportunity to see a very special measure of entertainment, one that transcends most jazz related performances coming through the city.