18 SEP 12 JONATHAN WIDRAN
Veteran drummer Harvey Mason, founding member and one quarter of Fourplay, has a great take on the title of the contemporary jazz supergroup's new album Esprit De Four on Heads Up: "We're bonded together and there's the 'all for one, one for all' unity of 21 years as a band. Because all of us have been both leaders and played supporting roles for other artists, we know when to lead and when to step back. All those tools work together here in an unselfish and giving environment."
On the new collection and their previous set Let's Touch The Sky, that environment has included versatile guitarist Chuck Loeb, who joined Mason, keyboardist Bob James and bassist Nathan East after the departure of Larry Carlton-who played with the band for 12 years. In addition to his lengthy solo career in smooth jazz, Loeb brings to the mix foundational years with Stan Getz and Steps Ahead. "With Chuck," Mason says, "we get a sound that's refined and sophisticated and very diverse. Now that he's opened us up to more jazz fusion, we're flying all over the place."
Case in point: the multi-movement, nearly eight minute opener "December Dream," that's understated in spots and super-energetic in others. It includes a fugue-like middle section by Loeb and James and Mason's syncopated orchestral part that reminds Loeb of "a Stravinsky piece with doubled and tripled snare drum."
The rest of the set is divided compositionally between members-but each song is marked by full group development. One of the focal tracks is "Put Our Hearts Together," an stirring inspirational ballad featuring Japanese pop singer Seiko Matsuda on vocals; the collection includes an instrumental version of the song as well.