Fourplay fans might be surprised to find that the supergroup's new album Heartfelt (Bluebird), represents a daring departure from the silky smooth style that made them one of smooth-jazz's most successful acts. This time out, the foursome created the material via a series of improvisational performances that they assembled into full compositions. The new tunes might have less clearly defined melodies than their predecessors, but they are filled with exploratory yet accessible performances.
In "Tally Ho!" Bob James' Piano, seemingly urged on by Harvey Mason's crashing cymbals, picks up speed until Larry Carlton's guitar enters and engages in its own chase with Mason's robust drumming. It wouldn't be a Fourplay album without at least one boudoir bound tune, and here it's "Let's Make Love," written by bassist Nathan East and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and sung by East. The title track possesses a moody beauty, while "Ju Ju" features a march rhythm that's overlaid by Carlton's bluesy improvisations. Yes, the direction is different, but it's also very satisfying. I hope Fourplay will continue in this vein on future albums.