Fourplay was formed 25 years ago, born of a merging of jazz styles and instruments and expertise that forged the Berks Jazz Fest that same year.
A quarter-century later, both are matured, enhanced, reconfigured and still honoring the synergy that created them. So what better way to celebrate both silver milestones than to have Fourplay perform at Jazz Fest, which is exactly what will happen April 18, 7 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Tickets are $49.
Three of the four current members of Fourplay — Bob James, Nathan East and Harvey Mason — have been together since the beginning, crafting the improvisational contemporary jazz sound that still identifies the quartet today.
“We were in the studio recording “Restoration,” (a cut from Grand Piano Canyon),” said keyboardist Bob James, who is generally credited for bringing the musicians together (guitarist Lee Ritenour completed the group then and worked on the first three albums). “And we knew that something special was going on. Whenever you (collaborate) you hope things will click and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, but when the vibe is really happening, you feel it.”
James said he remembers asking the others if they felt it, too. “There was something about the team aspect of this group that makes the music different,” he said.
Percussionist Harvey Mason puts it more simply: “We listen to each other,” he said. “And the interplay and the sharing help mold each tune until we all have the same warm and fuzzy feeling.”
Bassist Nathan East said the original plan was “to be the best modern jazz quartet of the ’90s.”
The fact that the band continued well beyond that has been a satisfying blessing.
“I always attribute it to the chemistry being so good,” he said. “It all came together so naturally that it was almost like an act of nature. Those are the things that become a part of our lives.”
Flash forward 25 years and the quartet is back in that same studio again – this time with guitarist Chuck Loeb, who joined five years ago, replacing Larry Carlton. He had been a fan of the group for all of the 20 years before he joined it.
“I’ve been a fan since the very beginning,” he said. “It was magic that jumped off that vinyl.”
As a fan as well as a member, Loeb said he takes it upon himself to continue to encourage the other guys to stay in that magical groove while they record their 25th anniversary album.
“I’ve been a stickler to keep listening to those original recordings to capture that magic again,” Loeb said. “But it’s not imitation. It’s the mood, the essence, the vibe I look for.”
The result so far is all Fourplay.
“It’s the chemistry that creates that sound,” he said. “I always point out that we are doing songs that stretch the boundaries, but it always ends up sounding like Fourplay.”
The sound is particularly unique because it’s sustained not only the last quarter-century and a dozen albums, but also the overwhelmingly busy and eclectic careers of its members.
James, who just recently turned 75, is considered the father of smooth/contemporary jazz and continues collaborations and composition in a variety of genres. His current work in progress is a piano concerto that he’ll debut with the Tokyo Philharmonic in September.
“I’ve got a deadline coming up,” he said. “And it’s not finished yet. It’s got me very nervous and also excited.”
It’s the same feeling he always has when he’s creating.
“Writing certainly doesn’t get easier,” James said. “But the best path to success is to just love the process.”
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Reading Eagle Correspondent