Let's Touch the Sky

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It would be incorrect to say that not much has changed Fourplay's sound since they began recording together in 1991. That said, while these musicians -- who were all successful artists individually -- have continued to evolve, as a group they've stayed remarkably focused on what they do best: play elegant, seamless, contemporary jazz with a light sexy groove. Keyboardist Bob James, drummer/percussionist Harvey Mason, and bassist Nathan East have remained constants but guitarists have come and gone: Chuck Loeb replaces Larry Carlton (who originally replaced founding member Lee Ritenour) for Let's Touch the Sky, Fourplay's 11th recording. James' title track composition kicks things off with a breezy Brazilian groove before strings paint an airy, almost cinematic backdrop. Loeb's "3rd Degree" ups the funk quotient with some hard-grooving guitar, ever-present rolling breaks by Mason, and some knotty synth work. His "Above and Beyond" provides the kind of guitar-led group interactive euphoria usually associated with Pat Metheny. Mason's "Pineapple Getaway" has irresistible synth and Rhodes work by James, but it's Loeb's stellar guitar work that makes this Caribbean-flavored groover one of the set's finest moments. "Gentle Giant," written by James in memory of Hank Jones, features a stellar upright bass solo from East. There are three vocal tracks on the set as well. East takes one on his "I'll Still Be Lovin' You," and Anita Baker lays down a fine one on her reading of "You're My Thrill." The most remarkable one is the deeply soulful, warmly expressive take of Cecil and Linda Womack's "Love TKO" by Ruben Studdard, with some excellent atmospherics provided by James and Mason. Fourplay's formulaic approach is firmly intact on Let's Touch the Sky and the band is firing on all cylinder, making this a fine entry in 2010's contemporary jazz oeuvre.

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