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Issue 1084

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Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11

Bob James and Charles Loeb - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11
Bob James and Charles Loeb - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 Nathan East and Charles Loeb - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 Bob James and Nathan East - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 Harvey Mason - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 Charles Loeb - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 Nathan East - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 Nathan East and Charles Loeb - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 Charles Loeb - Fourplay: The Clapham Grand, London 10/11/11 L-R  Bob James, Harvey Mason, Charles Loeb, Nathan East -Fourplay: The Clapham Grand 10/11/11

The Grand in Clapham has not long re-opened its doors after a cool half a million quid was spent on a major refurbishment. The revamp of this important 111 year-old listed building is described as âdemanding of passion and visionâ¦. A labour of both preservation and re-invention. â

Having been there in the 1990s shooting a show and since the refurbâ, to do an interview and photo shoot, I can confirm they did a marvellous job in bringing this beautiful theatre back to life, and providing London with a venue to be very proud of. Sight lines and acoustics are spot on. Staff friendly and facilities are fine.

Passion. Vision. Preservation. Re-invention. Apt labels that could also be applied to the band I went to see there. Fourplay. The so-called Jazz âSupergroup,â who have clocked up two decades since celebrated pianist and film/TV score composer Bob James, grabbed bass legend Nathan East and drum hero Harvey Mason at a recording session for his own album in 1990, and suggested they form a band. Guitar star Lee Ritenour completed the quartet and they were off, with the release of their million selling self-titled debut album in 1991. Lee stayed for six years, until the great Larry Carlton replaced him. Celebrating their 12th album, the guys flew into London for a one-night stand in Clapham, minus Larry; who left to focus on his solo career last year. But they brought with them Mr Charles Loeb on guitar. Chuck to his friends, having played on many sessions with Bob over the years. Big shoes to fill for sure, and he himself told me in the dressing room in the afternoon, a daunting task when he got the call, but one he took on with relish and brought many, many new tricks to the party. His own.

As Chuck unplugged his guitar at the end of the soundcheck, before the guys went off to grab a curry before the show, I stopped taking pictures for a second and whispered in his ear: âLarry who?â He beamed and smiled appreciatively. I meant it, because of what I had just heard for over an hour. But his playing in the actual show was just breathtaking. I doubt anyone in the room gave his predecessors a second though, as amazing as they are.

No disrespect intended toward Larry or Lee, as they are both phenomenal players and I am a big fan of Larryâs (his manager and label co-owner in Nashville, is a personal friend of mine) but Chuck has added a different dimension to the band. Brought a real edge. Not only in his playing, but also his song writing. I could go through a list of guitarists he sounds a little bit like. I could, but I wonât. He is Chuck Loeb and sounds like Chuck Loeb.

But it really was a genius move on the bandâs part to bring him in, when Larry left after 13 years at the amp. A lot of people outside of session circles would perhaps have asked âChuck who?â But not any more. No Siree Bob. It is well and truly his gig now. It could have been the end of the band when they lost such a star as Carlton. But, this four- piece is all about individuals. No one player is bigger than the unit, and there is not one leader. It is literally four playing, as the name suggests. Each has space to shine. Each is as important a cog in the wheel, as their three partners next to them on that stage.

This gig was not as well attended as Iâd imagined it would be. Typical of the UK, when most of their gigs sell out around the world. For the 100 minutes of sheer class and talent we got on the night, this would not have been out of place filling the 02 Arena. But this was in fact, a perfect intimate little venue for this music, and the people there will never forget that night. It was inspirational and awe inspiring, if you are a musician or a music fan. If you love this band, then it was a case of porkers in the brown smelly stuff for sure. A lovely, sweaty jazz club atmosphere, in a gorgeous 1,250 capacity venue with plenty of room to move.

A stunning gig. Really was. The fourth time the band has played in the UK, but the first time with Chuck on guitar. They played 13 songs in total, including six tracks from their latest album; the 11-track 2010 release, âLetâs Touch The Sky.â Two from the pen of Chuck Loeb â including a track called â3rd Degree,â that he wrote about following the previous incumbents on guitar in the band. One of the strongest tracks on the album, and on the night. Two from Harvey Mason, and one each from Bob James and Nathan East.

The band walked out on stage all wearing red tie and white shirts, only Bob with his tucked in to his black trousers. Looking like they had their jackets stolen at a communist party meeting! Bob far left of the stage on grand piano, dampened down by what looked like a horse blanket on top, and a Perspex sheet all the way round it, separating him from the bass amp next door. Was it something he said? Nathan with the sole vocal mike on stage, adding vocals to a handful of songs, but mainly harmonies and even a whistle. Bob taking the opportunity to poke fun by introducing this legendary bassist as âNathan East on whistle,â with a long pause, âand bass.â Next to him we had Chuck on guitar, and stage right was Harveyâs kit on a black drum riser.

So all four players on the front line in a row, and no central front man. They each get ample solos. They each show off their wares, but fit together as a four piece, like fuzzy felt on a blanket. The set list is agreed by the band and printed out literally five minutes before the show, by manager Sonny Aberlardo, to keep the set fresh and exciting for us and the band. It never got self-indulgent, or too clever for its own good, as can happen when you have virtuoso players competing for a merit badge and honours.

Tonight they opened with Max-O-Man from their first album, and into the acclaimed âChantâ from âBetween The Sheets.â Then, âBlues Forceâ and a loud cheer for the evergreen âRobobopâ - both from the 2,000 album, âYes, Please.â Harveyâs song, âPineapple Getawayâ from the new album, provided some warm Caribbean grooves on a cold November night. We got to hear Harveyâs unique shuffle as only he (and maybe Bernard Purdie) can play. The set gave him opportunity to stretch and use sticks (both ends), brushes and hot rods, and even his hands in one song. His solos were gob-smacking, and even those who yawn at drum solos, would have been hard pushed to do anything less than scream, shout and stamp for more after each one. It was that kind of night. Chuckâs âAbove and Beyond,â and then Bobâs tribute to his late friend, be bop star Hank Jones who died aged 91 in May last year and was a big influence on Bob, âGentle Giant (For Hank.)â Both showed Bobâs unique feel and touch, and that word again; âpassion,â - often putting me in mind of the great Dave Gruisin - and Chuckâs sensitive brush strokes. â3rd Degree,â was a cracker and saw Chuck on duty, with enough fretboard fireworks to thrill the guitarists in the audience. There were quite a few!

Time for two more numbers: Nathanâs âIâll Still Be Loving You,â introduced by Harvey standing at his kit, a lovely slow ballad Nathan sang with a breathy, sweet soul vocal. Then we got the popular, âBali Run,â from their debut album. The encore gave us two more, Harveyâs âMore Than a Dream,â and the closer, âWestchester Lady.â

It was a balanced and structured set, but I could have handled a few more up-tempo songs with a groove, rather than the slower stuff. Because when these chaps nail a groove, they bloody well nail that groove down as tight as my backside gets, on the Nemesis roller-coaster ride at Alton Towers! But that is a hairline observation and personal taste, rather than criticism. It is rare for me in 33 years of reviewing shows, looking for trouble and not finding any at all. I am delighted to say, I blinking loved it. Lovely guys to spend time with too, I can tell you.

They have some slick stage craft, such as the 20 second freeze frame routine where they each strike a pose mid song, and hold it perfectly for a full 20 seconds. Not easy and I guess there is going to be one of the guys always trying to make the others crack up. Fun all the way, and great for the photographers. They are all about now and the new life they have with Chuck on board, but with a respectful nod to their history. Bob may well have grey hair and white beard at 71, but heâs keeping up with the times; using an iPad on the music stand of his piano for the dots â also showing us a scrolling, large font âTHANKYOUâ when the band take their bows at the end to loud and deserved applause.

The thing that strikes you most, as much as the great, great, great music - which remarkably combines jazz, blues, RnB and funk, with Latin and African vibes with ease - is the visible mutual respect and admiration each of those four guys clearly has for each other. It is not just: âBoy he is a good player, I better step up my game.â It is way beyond that. It is a strong bond and camaraderie that would be hard to break. It has lasted for 12 albums, and on the way to 21 years. Judging from their performance and the latest album, it is not about to be broken just yet. With Chuck in the fold, they have only just begun a new chapter and are likely to be doing what they do for another two decades. By the look of their beaming smiles at each other throughout the gig, I doubt we have anything to worry about just yet.

Fourplay for sure, for many years to come please guysâ¦.

Photos: Simon Redley

* Look out for our fascinating interview and exclusive photographs with all four members of Fourplay, in the next issue of the magazine â Dec/Jan â hitting the streets the first week of Decemberâ¦

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Words SIMON REDLEY

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