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Fourplay continues ‘Smooth Jazz’ revolution

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Fourplay continues offering notes which ignited the ‘Smooth Jazz’ revolution

WASHINGTON, D.C.— This writer had a recent and rare opportunity to witness the fine classical-jazzy-funky sounds of Fourplay.The performance took place in the quaint confines of the Birchmere Music Hall in suburban Washington, DC.

The all-star quartet features such luminaries as Bob James on acoustic baby grand piano, Harvey Mason Sr. on drums, Nathan East on bass guitar and vocals and guitarist Chuck Loeb.

The 90-minute, 11-song playlist included a healthy blend of sophisticated jazz in conjunction with greasy funk rhythms, framed by the rhythmic mastery of Mason, an Atlantic City, NJ native and East, the Philadelphia-born, classically-trained bassist.

About half-way in the show, James stood-up from the 88s and announced that one of his early influences, jazz legend Horace Silver, had passed-away the previous morning, on Wednesday, June 18.

From there the group proceeded into a relaxed-but-hearty version of Silver’s signature piece, “Song for my Father.” Another classic which featured James’ talent extraordinaire, was the groups’ rendition of the jazz classic, “Body and Soul.”

As this writer’s maiden voyage to the Birchmere, I have nothing but positives to report about this quaint, 500-seat dinner venue that the players repeatedly described as their favorite venue to play “world-over,” according to East.

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FOURPLAY—From left: Bob James, Nathan East, Chuck Loeb and Harvey Mason.

Highlights of the set included the groups’ hit simply known as “Chant” which featured East as vocalist. Next year the group will celebrate its silver anniversary. Founding members James, East and Mason formed in 1990 after a successful collaboration on a James-offered solo LP. Their formation transformed these jazz-funk fusion stars into innovators of the popular genre now called “Smooth Jazz.” Loeb’s funk values sparkled throughout the evening, proving that he has carved his own niche since replacing original guitarist Lee Ritenour and later, Larry Carlton.

After the set concluded, the obviously-satisified audience offered a standing ovation and proceeded to callout for encores. After the fellows took five—just long enough to catch a breath and some deserved hydration, they returned to the stage amid crowd roars, and East (on six strings) delved into the signature bassline of James’ 1976 signature hit, “Westchester Lady.”

“Tight” would be an understated way to describe the musicality of this unit. Throughout the night, they’d find themselves in the middle of improvisational complexities that only they could interpret and find their way back. Meanwhile, the audience easily connected with the melodic and rhythmic expressions that occurred all-night long.

East and Loeb provided bits and pieces of vocalese. East’s vocals shined on “Chant”—which grabbed the full attention of the obviously—conservative and mature crowd. East’s premier whistling abilities were also noted by James, reminiscent of the great jazz harmonica/whistler, Baron “Toots” Thieleman.

Conversely, while most people appeared reserved at down-beat, by the time the show completed, folks were standing, cheering, hollering and collectively losing their conservative cool.

After the encore, the band immediately greeted well-wishers in the lobby of the venue while selling individual and group-recorded CD product.

The group respectfully greeted their fans and patiently held conversations, while taking photos.

Without question, the Birchmere dinner theater is a venue you may consider attending when visiting the DC area—specifically Alexandria, Va.

My only advice—get your tickets early and get to the venue early, considering that limited seating is based on a first-come, first-served.

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