Lorenzo Ferguson keeps to his triennial +FE Music release schedule with his fourth album for the label, issued after a documentary about the third one, other original music for film and television -- including pitch-perfect contributions to the satirical Sherman's Showcase -- and abundant collaborative work. From the title all the way down, FourFront has a composition like that of SunStorm, ManMade, and SkyBreak. Decked out with feel-good love and it-could-be-love songs tidily arranged over a sturdy post-disco/pre-new jack swing foundation, it similarly features a shifting cast of guest vocalists known and new to Zo! sessions. Among the familiar, most prominent is touring partner Carmen Rodgers on two highlights that sparkle. Also in the mix is Phonte, of course, either tightening the material in the background or duetting with one of the compatible new associates, Madison McFerrin, who elsewhere powers a delightfully featherlight if poignant bossa nova diversion. Ferguson continues to make incremental refinements and progressions, remarkably keeping it direct and replayable while adding detail and handling the bulk of the instrumentation on a level that verges on virtuosic. Whether written by the leader or the collaborators, the same can be said of the lyrics. Even the simplest romantic sentiments contain bright moments that stick out, like when Devin Morrison softly consoles that he'll "kick a silly freestyle, just to see you smile," or when Sy Smith bats her eyelashes with "I can see in your reflection that it's time to break the glass," signaling that she wants more than friendship. Strong finales have run throughout the Zo! discography, and there's another one here in "Step Up Front," a deep Afro-Latin house groove as high-spirited as anything by Masters at Work-related projects like Nuyorican Soul and Elements of Life. Moreover, it and the two preceding tracks add up to the finest three-track stretch on any Zo! LP. Ahead of the finish is "Crash," flirty machine soul fronted by Smith with discreet nods to Sly & the Family Stone, Shalamar, and Teena Marie. The succeeding penultimate number is the zigzagging slow jam "Sweat," which with Stokley's feverish hospitality can be heard as an answer song of acceptance.
by Andy Kellman