"San Francisco has always been a melting pot for great music. A lot of the reason is it is also a melting pot for culture. We have people of all origins, colors and flavors. You have to be pretty open-minded to live here, and it definitely reflects in the music," says Greg Sankovich the keyboardist for the San Franciscan jazz/funk quartet Times 4. "Compared to other places, there is definitely a lot more groove happening here. Whether it is Mariachi music, soul or jam down music, the various dance elements blend together into a funky stew. We (Times 4) like to think that we epitomize that in our sound, and the approach that we bring to the music," concludes Sankovich.
The words "a funky stew" can also be applied to the music of Times 4, as the members of the ensemble have brought together an eclectic background of R&B, hip-hop, jazz, rock, fusion and contemporary music to create their debut album Seductivity, and the outstanding sophomore CD release Relations.
Lincoln Adler, the saxophonist for the quartet says, "One of the things that is really interesting is even though we didn’t end up playing the same music, we all grew up listening to the same kind of R&B, like Earth, Wind & Fire, and funk such as "Bootsy" Collins. It is interesting to see how our lives have (evolved). Greg and I wound up being a little more straight ahead, while Kevin (Lofton/bass) and Maurice wound up being more R&B and rock. It somehow, however, all comes together in our music."
That funky stew is what keeps Adler stimulated and involved with Times 4. During the 1990’s he was a member of a group known as the Rainbow Tribe, which he says, played a similar type of music and first whet his appetite for this type of musical venture.
All the band members concur that it is difficult to apply a label to the music of Times 4. Drummer Maurice Miles says, "I think it is really the dynamic of our music. Some parts can be considered contemporary, and I think other parts have a jazz overtone. Our music has a groove-oriented backbeat. I think it is a mixture of a few genres. Some things that we do, such as "Full Moon," is more contemporary, but then you get into a little more funky stuff with "M.O." I don’t think that we do just one type of music."
Sankovich’s cultural and musical influences extend beyond San Francisco, and even beyond the shores of America. After university, he spent ten years living in Tokyo, Japan. He says, "When you are separated from your family, familiar surroundings and your culture, there is a point where you stand on the edge of the cliff and ask, ‘Who am I? What am I? What do I want to accomplish and express? What does my creativity mean to me? What does all of this mean to me?’ There are moments when there are pangs of loneliness that creep in and you wonder what you are doing, and what your life means. When you look inside and try to express from your heart that which you love most, that is the biggest lesson that you learn. I think that we are always learning, and that we are always confronted with that. We get involved in the day-to-day kind of things and tend to forget (about those lessons) and gravitate away from them. It is only in those critical moments that we are reminded of them."
Times 4 has been together now for a little more than four years and the current project Relations marks their maturity as a band. Lofton notes, "I think there is a definite difference between Seductivity and Relations. When we are on stage together, we are always learning from each other and growing as musicians, but I think that we have come a long way since the first album. We did a lot more writing and put a lot more thought into the songs this time around. Last time, we came up with some ideas and we were happy with them. We wanted to get that CD done, and we did. It worked out really well and was a good stamp for where we were at, at the time, but, I think there is quite a bit of difference as far as the writing goes on this second set of songs (Relations)."
The maturity and tightness of the group also is evident in the way Relations came together. Miles says of the creative process, "It was pretty much all improvisation. We pretty well create all of our music in that way. When we first got together (as a group), we didn’t have any material and just started jamming together. We bring out our ideas through our playing. A lot of our music comes from an emotional perspective. It is what we feel at the time. We like to keep it that way because the music is more stimulating. Somebody will start a groove and then everybody will put their little bit into it. As we listen to each other, different ideas begin to (emerge). Once we have the basic idea, then we sit down and start to structure it."
A discussion of the group’s songs reveals that although their music can be described using superlatives, their creative process is really quite simplistic and inspired in the moment. Lofton’s explanation for the origins of the song "Cell Phone" serves as a good example of what I mean. "Initially when we got together (as a group) we only had about six songs. All of the gigs were three hours long and six songs doesn’t go very far (at this juncture he is interrupted as the rest of the group breaks into laughter). At one point, we decided we would like to record some of the songs, but none of us ever remembered to bring a recording device. We really liked this particular song and either Greg or Maurice brought out a cell phone to record it using the memo mode. Since we were not creative enough to come up with a title, we named the song "Cell Phone."
If you think, the naming of "Cell Phone" was quite rudimentary, but it is nothing compared to the way the quartet came up with the song "Mojito." Adler explains, "We used to play in some bars that had really good mojitos (an alcoholic beverage) so we named the song after the drink." While they were on stage at a gig, Miles started playing a samba beat. The song eventually evolved from the group’s improvisation. Miles hints that the imbibing of a few mojitos may also have contributed to the creative process.
The song "Full Moon" developed from a gig in which the quartet was forced to play very quietly in the venue. "Sometimes when we have to play quietly like that, it forces us to listen really differently and really take in what each of us are doing. It just came out of our heads the way that you hear it on the CD," says Adler.
Times 4’s debut album, Seductivity, received widespread radio play and if the guys calling the shots at corporate radio America have their heads screwed on straight, we should soon be hearing songs from Relations on the airwaves, as well.