Here’s the tally for you keeping score at home: three songs from pianist Bob James and two each from guitarist Larry Carlton, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason. Add it up and it’s another Fourplay CD as sweet as cotton candy and sexy as absolute confidence. There’s 10 songs on the band’s 11th CD, so making it Fiveplay is hot new jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding, who takes lead on “Prelude to Lovers,” written by James’ daughter Hilary James and her husband Kevin DiSimone.
East’s “Fortune Teller” starts us off with a romp through the classic Fourplay bedroom oeuvre and allows James and Carlton ample opportunity to interact, as does James’ own “Look Both Ways.” It was East’s songs that shined on Fourplay’s last project, and here it’s Mason who steps up. “Argentina” is a healthy serving of lounge magic, and “The Whistler” lopes along with its unabashedly sunny and optimistic vibes, one of the quartet’s top songs ever. Of course, Carlton is locked solidly in the groove for his “Ultralight” and the bluesy “Comfort Zone,” while James is similarly impressive with the aforementioned “Look Both Ways,” the jazziest cut here, and with “The Yes Club.”
There are two songs with surprises: James’ “Sebastian” is based on a Bach chord progression and is ethereally brought to life with James’ playing and East’s wordless voicings. And East’s “Cape Town,” co-written with brother Marcel East and cousin Alan Dones, chronicles the journey of the Easts’ grandparents to South Africa on a missionary expedition. The Fourplay bassist’s falsetto has never sounded better.