Esprit De Four, the 12th release by the jazz quartet Fourplay, is a quiet and confident recording. The confidence can be viewed in light of the fact that pianist Bob James, drummer Harvey Mason, bassist/vocalist Nathan East and guitarist Chuck Loeb never seem to feel the need to raise the volume of their music to compete with performers who often feel the need to scream. The members of this quartet go through the tracks on Esprit De Four with the confidence that the virtuosity and creativity of their musicianship and the quality of their compositions speak plenty loud enough.
From the sensual falsetto of East’s vocal on the softly swinging “All I Wanna Do,” to atmospheric “Venus” and the sweeping guitar and piano solos on “Logic of Love,” Esprit De Four is a friendly and intimate piece of art. Even faster tracks such as “Firefly” and “Sonnymoon” have a delicacy to them that places an emphasis on the interplay between the musicians. “Firefly” finds Mason using his funk background to set the table for his band mates to conduct a musical conversation – note the back and forth between East on bass and James on keys midway through the cut. Next, guitarist Loeb and James engage in a musical duel.
Fourplay has been most noted for its balladry going back to the El DeBarge-led cover of “After the Dance” on the quartet’s 1991 debut record. The group keeps that tradition going with “All I Wanna Do,” with East handling the vocals. This cut, which finds East singing about his wish to spend time alone with the object of his desire, captures the cozy feel that permeates Esprit De Four.
Individually, James, East, Loeb and Mason bring their stellar reputations to any project. These four artists have nothing to prove. The ironic thing about artists who have nothing to prove is that in their quiet confidence they can prove so much. And with each performance the members of Fourplay remind fans of the reasons for their incredible staying power. Recommended.